Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Dear God, could it be? Does she actually not loathe me?"
Almost an antidote to WILSON, this is a work from the great Dan Clowes which will confound your expectations. It's as funny and acutely observed as ever, but for once it's also very tender.
A hopelessly romantic, middle-aged divorcee, much out of touch with the dating game, awaits a blind date his mate's set up for him. The thing is, she's late
unless it's that pretty young girl over there
Marshall proceeds to wind himself up in advance, trying to guess who in the coffee shop might be his date, planning verbal strategies for retreat in case it's one of its less attractive denizens. He does that a lot: practising conversational gambits in his head; also thinking when he should be listening because when his improbably attractive date does arrive, he barely hears a word she says, his boxed, internal monologue sitting squarely over Natalie's speech balloons, obstructing her words so that we can't hear her either (see also Mazzucchelli's ASTERIOS POLYP):
"Jesus, I'm plastered! Sober up!
"I really have to urinate, but I don't dare leave the table. Mustn't give her the chance to escape!
"My God, look at her. I don't stand a chance.
"Most beautiful women turn so bitter when the realities of aging set in. Hard to blame them, I suppose. It must be kind of awful. But she seems so cheerful and good-natured and non-judgemental
. I wonder what Tim and Yuki told her about me?"
This is very familiar territory: Marshall spending his time second-guessing, trying so hard to judge how he's coming across that he's not necessarily giving the best first impression. He steels himself for her own strategic retreat, but no, it doesn't come. This might actually be going somewhere
As I said, this will confound you at almost every juncture, Clowes cleverly steering your expectations one way, playing on his reputation, only to surprise you.
There are a lot of neat tricks, like hiding parts of speech balloons in the panel gutters to reinforce the idea of Marshall operating on automatic pilot; the point in Nathalie's marriage when she began to feel so alienated that her husband's hollow, evasive laughter literally grows to fill the house so that she can no longer hear anything else; a moment of disappointment so profound that the world around Marshall on a double-spread landscape is reduced to small blocks of coloured light filtering through the street's doors and windows in an otherwise total black-out.
So: one eventful evening in the life of a quiet man, as well as the morning after.