Page 45 Review by Stephen
If whatever you're doing isn't doing it for you, then drop what you're doing and pick up a book by Jaime Hernandez instead. Open any book, anywhere, and bask in its humour, humanity and art. It really is that accessible and will work every time. This, for example, is the perfect introduction for if Maggie, Hopey and Ray have history, well, so does everyone you meet for the first time. The fun is in finding it out.
Poor, sweet, put-upon Maggie! So kind, so generous, and such a soft touch: the things she's roped into, then has to endure. Surrounded by so many crazies, it's no wonder she's plagued by a crippling self-doubt when the truth is she's admired from afar. All she wants is the love of a good woman, the woman in question being Hopey. Instead she's pursued by loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed trouble magnet Viv, a total liability who won't go away. Or shut up. Or give up. If there's a bar fight, Viv causes it, and she's the bit on the side of vicious local crime thug Sid whose apartment she breaks into and steals from. He threatens her with a knife right in front of Maggie yet Viv brushes it off with bravado. One suspects she just loves the attention for she shoves off in a huff if ever that falters or fails.
That's what makes Maggie's old fling Ray her perfect lapdog. He lusts after Viv while still pining for Maggie, but with Viv he's fallen into the sexless category of trusted friend so if anything happens it will only be the by-product of the foghorn's volcanic mood swings. What it will do is embroil him deeper and more dangerously than Maggie in Viv's relationship with Sid.
Those are the two main narrative threads from separate, complementary perspectives - each with its distinctive narrative style - which are interwoven here along with the daily routines of the orbiting cast who constantly pop up in the backgrounds. And I like that. They're not random itinerants, but those with very real lives of their own. In addition there are snippets from barmaid-turned-teacher's-assistant Hopey's point of view which are decidedly at odds with everyone's adoration of the punkstress who's constantly asked after wherever Maggie goes, catastrophically for Maggie's ego.
Hopey and Maggie are like inseparable magnets whose polarities seemed doomed to reverse and attract the wrong attention instead. Hopey's relationship with Rosie, for example, isn't half as intimate as it is with Maggie and we witness its sparkless, perfunctory demise even during foreplay. It begins with a casual statement that sounds like little more than their usual timetable troubles before the knowing resignation sets in.
"I'll be gone before you get up tomorrow."
"That's right. You got a full day."
"I won't be here when you come home either."
"I mean for good."
Tellingly, like so many other key chapters, it ends with an evening phone call between Hopey and Maggie instead. They just never seem to find the right words these days.
What should be made clear is that no one is getting any younger nor growing much wiser or at least more confident. Maggie in particular is beginning to look her middle age whilst being as voluptuous as ever, and it's a testament to Jaime's love of curvaceous lines and highlighted lipstick that she remains as classically attractive as ever. I'd be much surprised if Terry Moore's Francine wasn't directly inspired by Hernandez.
Which brings us to the core of the book in which Maggie is propelled back home to Hoppers (from which they all hail) by the arrival on her doorstep of church-hating Izzy who still sees the devil in every detail. Long vilified back home as a witch-woman, her house a target of vandalism, she appears to be barking. But this is the thing with both Bros Hernandez: there's always an element of the supernatural fuelled by traditional superstition. There are shadows lurking in the doorways and black dogs standing on their two hind feet. Even Hopey sees one. And that entire sequence culminates in a monstrous act of arson made all the more arresting by its profound effect on Maggie.
There are a lot of tiny tears in this book, hidden like their hearts from others; but Jaime offsets these with moments of pure comedy just when they're needed the most: the utterly vapid daytime chat show; Izzy going off the deep end, screaming round the empty swimming pool before falling in, surrounded by flies.
"I do believe I'm quite ready to go home now."
So much of this book is about going back home: family habits that never die; neighbourhoods and friendships changing out of all recognition. But if the past is a foreign place, memories know few frontiers. They can, in fact, be relentless.