Page 45 Review by Stephen
You know, I rather suspect that Shaun Tan has a bottle-top collection. Maybe not quite as weird as the one in THE LOST THING but they do tend to pop up in his books. Or maybe the foreign student who once came to live with his family began one. And I'm fairly confident a foreign student did once come to live with them: this is far too astutely observed for it to be otherwise.
"Secretly I had been looking forward to having a foreign visitor - I had so many things to show him. For once I could be a local expert, a fountain of interesting facts and opinions. Fortunately, Eric was very curious and always had plenty of questions. However, they weren't the kind of questions I had been expecting. Most of the time I could only say, "I'm not really sure," or, "That's just how it is." I didn't feel helpful at all."
The guest amasses a seemingly odd collection of things - mundane bits and pieces we take for granted and would ordinarily trash, but which to him are cultural novelties. Ah, but Eric isn't simply collecting objects for their innate curiosity value, for Eric is full of surprises
All of which brings me to the salient observation that although this looks like illustrated prose, it is essentially comics; because apart from when Eric takes up residence in the kitchen pantry, perhaps, if you stripped away the images it is a very different read indeed. Once you see Eric himself, especially in his environment, his interest in plugholes, bottle-tops and sweet wrappers ("small things he discovered on the ground") becomes a lot less strange for they're all at eye level but, conversely, the story becomes infinitely more fantastical and, crucially, the punchline is purely visual.
Lastly, it's only just occurred to me that Eric's singular method of "leaving" might well be a visual pun.
Anyway, a family takes in a strange and wonderful visitor who prefers residence in their kitchen pantry, and it proves quite the revelation. Short story taken from the TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA.