cover image Big Questions

Big Questions

Anders Nilsen. Drawn & Quarterly, $69.95 (658p) ISBN 978-1-77046-047-8

Epic in its scale and circumscribed in focus, Nilsen’s incisive Big Questions is a philosophical novel that uses the techniques of fable to investigate faith, society, disillusionment, and catastrophe. A dozen years in the making, Nilsen’s 600+-page story depicts the lives, bonds, and quarrels of a group of quizzical birds whose ontology is challenged by the appearance of a bomb, a crashed airplane, and a narcoleptic human pilot. At first these talkative avians resemble Charles Schulz’s Linus with their naïve philosophizing. But as the situation escalates, the book demonstrates how, in the absence of knowledge, germinal philosophy and early religion can be much the same thing. Competing mythologies, ideologies, and messianic fervor cause rifts within a community that otherwise unites as part of nature’s predatory food chain. Nilsen outlines his figures with a thin but commanding line, and builds texture and atmosphere with dense stippling and hatching, creating a lush, verdant landscape. His breathtaking vistas resonate with his characters’ struggle to assemble meaning from incomprehensible events—and to rebuild their world from the pieces left over. (Aug.)