Page 45 Review by Jonathan
Alex A QUIET DISASTER Potts returns with his first full-length slice of his trademark downbeat droll!
Our central protagonist Carl is teetering on the edge of a full-blown existential crisis, probably of the early-onset mid-life variety, in his own mind at least... And it's only being exacerbated by being cooped up in a small riverside house on stilts in the middle of nowhere in Europe, accessible only by boat, with his girlfriend Rita, who is assiduously trying to get her thesis polished off. Methodical, applied, diligent. She's everything that Carl is seemingly not. If only he could find something to do with his life?! Or at least occupy him for the next few weeks!
He strikes me as being prone to the odd flight of fancy, and indeed fantasy, does our Carl. So after a failed attempt to catch some sardines for lunch, purely because he's getting fed up with the helpful (and perhaps a tad nosey) landlord Mr. Beuf popping by on his boat with ham and bread for them, he hits upon his next crackpot scheme. He will track down the last remaining artisan responsible for producing the boat-shaped coffins preferred by the locals for their customary interment rites.
Having located said skilled coffin-maker by means of asking a few questions of the gossipy old men knocking back the vino in the local bar, Carl's promptly riding the bus even further out into the back of beyond, to offer his services as an unpaid apprentice. How could the artisan possibly refuse such an offer...? One terse, instant refusal later and he's swiftly heading home, tail between his legs, feeling more sorry for himself than ever. He's not one to be easily put off, though, our Carl, I will give him that. And the next day sees him gird his loins and head straight back to the coffin-maker's compound, determined to make him accept his sworn offer of fealty in exchange for teaching him the ancient skills of woodworking.
The artisan refuses, of course. Carl, believing his life can't possibly get any worse starts dejectedly heading back to the bus stop, before realising he has somehow lost his wallet... So he's left with no other choice but to attempt to throw himself at the mercy of the coffin-maker's hitherto unforeseen, apparently unbeating, mahogany heart and beg for some change to get home. In fact, when in desperation Carl offers to sell him his watch, the artisan finally, reluctantly acquiesces, invites Carl in and puts him to work.
Carl, ecstatic at being in his eyes apprenticed, is consequently somewhat baffled when he finds he has merely been press-ganged into pulling the nails out of some scrap wood, then planing it smooth by hand. Convincing himself it has to be purely a Mister Miyagi-style master-discipline test, he sets to work with gusto. For hours. And hours. And hours. Then, when after several days work, the artisan casually tosses him a box of matches and tells him to burn all the wood he's just so carefully prepared, he's is utterly distraught, but still somehow believes it is all part of his initiation. His grand ceremony, however, is still to come...
Illustrated with a vibrant Mediterranean watercolour-esque platter, alongside some very dour and sour long-faced expressions - mainly on Carl and the coffin-maker's parts in fairness, everyone else including long-suffering girlfriend Rita and the oily Mr. Beuf seem pretty chipper - this work neatly captures the feel of a man on the edge. A very rough, unplaned, jagged-nail, protruding edge... that's set to snag and tear at the emotional cloth of Carl's very soul... He strikes me as exactly the sort of person who is in need of a bit of tough love, mind you! Break out the sandpaper!