Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"I don't know.
"I've had about all I can take of them. If they wanna have a big nostalgia love fest, leave us the fuck at home, ya know?
"We could rent one of those movies. I might go back down to the pool soon enough.
"Are you hungry? I could eat, but I could wait.
"Wanna order room service?
"Would you please say something?
"Mom and Dad might be able to pretend nothing is wrong, but I don't think you've said one word on this whole trip.
"What's going on with you?"
He really hasn't, you know - said a word, that is - Tyler, Cara's younger brother. I flipped back to the start of that particular story and checked and, sure enough, Tyler has been entirely mute for the duration of his family's road trip to Cape Cod, to revisit the exact spot where his still loved-up father proposed to his mother twenty-five years ago.
That's probably the least weird thing about him, though, as we've gained a very good idea of what's going on with Tyler from his hallucinations - if that's what they are. If not, they are some seriously disturbed fantasies. Tyler, I feel, may well be a serial killer in the making... The holiday therefore unsurprisingly goes pear-shaped when Cara walks in on her brother doing strange things with a pillow dressed in her used bra and knickers whilst their parents are off having a romantic dinner...
Billed as "a darkly funny portrait of middle America seen through the stunted minds of its children" I would have to say that has pretty much nailed it, actually! There are six stories here whose characters overlap, including a reprise for Tyler as a young man in a perturbingly understated finale, where the kids find themselves caught up in some typical teen dramas like house parties, underage drinking and unwanted pregnancy, plus some atypical malarkey such as kidnapping, rape and a fatal car crash.
Through it all Nick Drnaso paints his peculiarly uncomfortable portrait of dysfunctional kids living these tragically hopeless lives. Aimless and aspirationless, the best they can probably hope for after community college, if they even go, is a dead-end job stuck in an indentikit bland town in the middle of nowhere, filled with fast food joints and little else. Middle-aged spread and medicated lethargy, prescription or otherwise, is all that almost certainly awaits...
This is exactly like parts of America I have personally seen. Whereas in tiny old Britain we have sink estates, the good old USA has entire sink States. Like Middlesborough scaled up to the size of Mississippi... Not full-on inner-city deprivation, but perhaps more uncomfortably real for its mere one step remove from the life of the average person. You can't imagine any of the characters here experiencing any great degree of upward social mobility in their lives, nor indeed perhaps downwards, but then I've always believed the desire for change, any sort, has primarily to come from within.
Nick's cast of characters, however, seem content to simply be part of the fabric of small-town society and be swept along by the tidal undercurrents of malaise present there. They can't think big. Well, except perhaps for Tyler, and that's purely in terms of body count. And yet, even when we find out what's become of the littlest psycho, in the final story, it's clear even his grand visions haven't amounted to much. I wonder how many budding, genuine teenage psycho-killers find their lust for life so easily thwarted? Or maybe he's just been biding his time, the one resident of Beverly with a long-term career plan...
Art-wise, I can see several partial comparisons. The slightly pastel palette and general art style strongly minded me in some panels of Rutu EXIT WOUNDS / THE PROPERTY Modan. Particularly when arms are swinging about or faces are three-quarters on. I can also similarly make a case for some stories in Tomine's OPTIC NERVE. Also, and I think it is the dot eyes, Raymond Briggs, and also even Ernie Bushmiller's classic strip NANCY, particularly when characters are face-on. The relative simplicity of the style further allows the excruciating interactions between the various characters to take centre stage. For it's those which are the atrophied, diseased, fat-clogged beating heart of these stories...