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Ben Katchor, The Cardboard Valise


Despite my great admiration for Ben Katchor's work, it took me a while to really get into his latest, The Cardboard Valise. For most of the book there's little plot or narrative cohesion, but instead a series of typically quirky episodes. The book follows two primary characters in the fictional Fluxion City - Emile Delilah, the long-forlorn son of a corporate executive, and Elijah Salamis, a "supranationalist" idler who forsakes all cultural and national influences in a quest for universal purity. But while both men live in Fluxion City, neither really belong to it, Emile because he is compulsively drawn to the vacation locales of Tensint Island and Outer Canthus, and Elijah because he distances himself from all things local.

While all of these episodes are entertaining in themselves - and also incisively muse on consumerism, nationalism and religion - the book didn't really seem to go anywhere, and after a while it began to feel more like an anthology of unrelated strips than a unified narrative. But then, just a few pages from the end, Katchor marvelously brings Emile and Elijah together, reuniting Emile from his estranged parents and giving Elijah a final act of personal accomplishment. Yet even that very satisfying conclusion doesn't end the book - instead, Katchor defies convention and has the final page depict the return of the deposed king of Outer Canthus from his exile in Fluxion City back to his home, neatly transported by the very suitcase of the book's title. Another lively, weird story from Katchor, whom I continue to believe is the best graphic novelist going.

December 22, 2011 in Books | Permalink