Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories by Gabrielle Bell

“But then, I’ve never felt so useful.”

The title story of this collection, first published in Kramer’s Ergot 5, is one of my favorite comic stories. Cutting sharp-eyed realism with fantasy, it showcases the unique cruelty that New York dishes out to newcomers, as well as the wearing effect romantic relationships can have on their participants. Bell has a keen ear for dialog in her fictional stories and here it serves to give us just enough back story to make the main character, Cecil, situation heartbreaking. The story is also in vibrant color and this adds a nice liveliness to the story.

The rest of the book is a mix of fiction and autobio stories with main characters that are like Cecil—underappreciated and harassed by life. However, none of the rest of the stories resonate with me. An overwhelming bleakness pervades much of Bell’s work, including this collection. Although I love the way she draws and her ability to tease out a telling detail I don’t enjoy spending time with her characters. The desire to give them all a violent shake is too distracting!

*photo from drawn & quarterly because I already returned this to the library


kenan said...

I feel compelled to speak up on behalf of "My Affliction," which dazzles me every time I read it. I don't disagree with your appraisal of Bell's characters, but that pervasive melancholy is, I think, not itself the point, but a means to a thematic end. And where it gets this reader, at least, in that particular story is well worth having to make the trip with some Debbie Downers.

Carrie said...

Thanks for writing.

I agree that the feeling of her work is not the point, but it is the element that alienates me--and the alienation doesn't bring anything with it.

However, when she does a story I like, I love it (if that makes sense).