Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Trust me, a year from now you'll be one of those dads telling me that my life isn't complete until I've seen my child look at me and smile because he just shit his drawers again."
Let's hope so.
There's a lot to digest here for this is an improbably well balanced discussion on - and examination of - friendship and parenthood with that bit in between: being part of a couple. But mostly it's about bringing new life into the world and how that impacts on your relationship and your friendships, your freedom and your future.
Billy, being reassured above by his single mate Brownie, has just learned that his wife is pregnant. It shouldn't be so much of a shock to Billy since he and his wife Marcy have been trying for a while. There may have been a little pressure from Marcy's parents since Marcy's sister Missy already has a kid; and there may have been a little encouragement from Billy's other mate Scotty since he already has one child with wife Ritu and another on the way. And they seem happy.
But suddenly, to Billy, it is real.
As his single, divorcee mate Brownie says with sympathy, it's like when you've embarked on a rollercoaster ride and the safety bar goes down. At any point before that you could have turned back. But when the safety bar goes down you are locked in to the rollercoaster ride which in the case of parenthood will last for a good two decades and beyond.
And Billy doesn't believe he is ready.
He is on the precipice of regret.
How do you tell your wife that?
OUR EXPANDING UNIVERSE explores the dynamics over time between three male friends, Brownie, Billy and Scottie. It also explores the relationships between Scotty and his wife Ritu, Billy and his missus Marcy, and Ritu and Marcy's close friendship. Then there's Brownie, a single divorcee, who feels increasingly excluded by his friends' forward momentum even though he was the very first to get married. Opinionated and with no internal editor, he does love to pontificate way too much about everything including children which he doesn't have, and that drives Scotty, father of one - no wait, two - at times to venomous distraction. On the other hand, Brownie has a certain wisdom which comes from being well informed, and is surprisingly principled as you'll eventually see. Maybe Scotty isn't as happy as he seems. Maybe he should have come out with this long ago for Billy's sake:
"Anyone who tells you parenthood is all hugs and 'Little House on The Prairie' and soccer games is a filthy fucking liar. You're going to be stressed, you're going to worry, you and Marcy are going to get into fights about who left the stuffed frog at the playground. You just hang on, cuz you're someone's dad now, and that's what dads are supposed to do."
I couldn't imagine Billy and Marcy fighting. They're the kindest of all the cast.
There is so much going on which will eventually come out but this isn't the place.
Please don't believe this is entirely male-centric, either. For one, there is the central scene published like a play. In it Ritu and Marcy host an evening for their fellow 'Sirens of Brooklyn', Julie, Nicole, Kim, Dani and Gina. They're in various sorts and stages of relationships, some with children, but only one of them have we heard much about: Gina. Gina seems destined to be single forever. She's had a seemingly endless string of catastrophic dates which she tends to offload to her friends who are in equal parts amused and sympathetic because they do love her dearly. They were united in relief when Gina finally extricated herself from her one longer relationship, which was abusive. Very abusive.
The evening meanders along pleasantly enough with different parties exchanging news, compliments and the occasional slightly overbearing advice. There's only one awkward moment as Marcy side-steps Ritu's rash declaration that Marcy might have something to announce, until the evening comes crashing down and we're given a completely different take on the whole single versus couple scenario which had hitherto been left unvoiced. But it's not over, for when Ritu and Marcy are left alone to clear up, Robinson pulls out the finest panel in the book as the play gives way to a moment of comics which is worthy of Will Eisner.
Robinson's storytelling is faultless. There's an earlier gathering of Marcy's family, Billy suffering a little ridicule for his chosen profession, and I loved how the pages split vertically as the chatter split into one-on-one offshoots, before merging again as conversations converged, and so on. He's particularly adept at presenting middle-age and something subtle much later on happens to Billy's hair.
I wasn't entirely sure what the astronomy interludes added even after the Planetarium show: I'm not sure they did put "things in perspective" because the point surely is that the dilemmas within are very real to each individual and so of the utmost importance. Although I did learn that there are "rogue" planets which don't revolve around a star but roam the galaxy in darkness, forever alone.
So: singles, couples, commitment and the conscious decision or to pressures to reproduce. Oh, and one other element I've studiously avoided here.
A lot of my friends have got married and had children; a lot of my friends have got married but not had children; a lot of my friends have had children but not got married. They all seem blissfully happy in their unions albeit there are going to be stresses and strains because that is life and that is inevitably strife too once there's a new, demanding element in the mix. I've seen how chicks squawk when they're hungry!
To dive in regardless is to many a perfectly natural - even biological - imperative and a joy! To forgo that pleasure in favour of a fulfilling relationship free from such distractions is an equally understandable decision. I didn't even know there was a ridiculous stigma attached to the obviously valid choice not to have children until I read Julian Hanshaw's great graphic novel TIM GINGER. To remain single is far from the end of the world, but to some it seems so and I sympathise there as well. Every iteration and argument is explored, I promise you, in OUR EXPANDING UNIVERSE by the creator of TRICKED and TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN and, originally, BOX OFFICE POISON.
It's just a shame there have to be arguments, isn't it? We do love to judge, and there will plenty of that going on here - just not by Alex Robinson.