Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"What did you think?"
"There were some interesting ideas, but I felt empty when it was over."
"Yeah, it was a good kind of empty feeling though, did Teddy read it?"
"Oh no, he's not much of a reader."
From the creator of BEVERLY which I loved and seemingly everyone else ignored - okay, it did win an L.A. Times Book Prize, but despite that prize and my review it didn't seem to translate into huge sales - comes a work you're all now falling over yourselves to pick up in store and online. Amazing what a glowing review in Guardian by Chris Ware can do. Just for the record, for what it's worth, I loved this too. Allow me to elaborate...
Firstly, that pull quote above sums up exactly how I felt when I finished. Though I don't know anyone called Teddy, bibliophobe or otherwise. This work is an extraordinary overlapping and blending of so many fascinating ideas, issues and concepts including dealing with loss, being utterly unable to help someone deal with loss, mental illness, conspiracy theories, the seemingly uncontrollable spread of indistinguishable information and misinformation with which the internet is now saturated on mainstream news sites, on social media and in chatrooms, plus so much more besides. It's a psychologically degrading, powerful mix that may well leave you feeling quite fatigued and perhaps a little more defenceless in face of the seemingly relentless and unpredictable insanity of the modern world. Well, that was my vibe.
But, despite feeling empty and also slightly emotionally blended myself when it was over, it was indeed a good kind of empty feeling. Though, I will categorically and emphatically restate for the record I don't know anyone called Teddy. Actually, I do, thinking about it. He plays jazz trumpet professionally, but he doesn't read comics. As least as far as I am aware. Which is a shame, because I think he might quite like them. Now, only I know at this point whether I am talking complete bullshit or dealing in facts*. Much like the deluge of both one receives when encountering any topic whatsoever on the internet these days. Though anything involving a degree of criminality, politics and medical advice seem particularly prone to, shall we say, wide-ranging opinions.
The empty feeling arose because I was left bemused by the ending. On the bare face of it, it is one of the most anti-climatic and perhaps unresolved endings I think I've ever read. The 'perhaps' is partly because of an ever-more sneaking suspicion I had building through the entire work was not addressed or resolved in any way. It is entirely possible, though, I had been led right up the proverbial garden path, quite deliberately so by Mr. Drnaso. Possibly paths plural. In fact, maybe even something akin to Hampton Court Maze for all I know. However, the more I reflected on it, the two-page epilogue that concludes this work was highly appropriate and probably note perfect.
The pull quote, by the way, comes from the last conversation between the titular Sabrina, domiciled in Chicago and shortly about to vanish off the face of the earth, and her younger sister Sandra. The Teddy in question is Sabrina's boyfriend, who, rendered utterly dysfunctional, well, non-functional pretty much, in the face of her disappearance has decided to take off for Colorado to go stay with marginal childhood school friend Calvin, now in the US Air Force working at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado in some nebulous security position.
All Teddy does pretty much all day is sit around Calvin's house whilst he's at work, listening to talk radio, one particular conspiracy theory slinger in particular being his rabid host of choice. Calvin, meanwhile, puzzled by the placid behaviour of his almost forgotten friend, whom, frankly, he was astonished called him at all, has started surfing the internet to try and get a handle on Sabrina's disappearance and Teddy's sudden arrival.
When a disturbing video hits the news and the media finally learn of Teddy's whereabouts, Calvin finds not only his apartment and online presence being targeted by the legitimate broadcast media, but also those who have already got their minds firmly made up and equally firmly closed about Sabrina's whereabouts. And those loony tunes aren't above a few not-so-thinly veiled threats to try and ensure the, sorry their, truth comes to light...
One of the many clever little tricks to this work, was that alongside the clearly photoshopped / edited / blatantly made-up fake news evidence that finds its way into the wider public, and our own consciousness, is that I'm sure I spotted some odd inconsistencies amongst the supposed verified facts. It set me thinking, and kept me thinking, that I knew what was really happening. Right up until that ending...
In some ways, Calvin, grappling with being apart from his estranged wife and child in Florida and whether to take some covert black ops job he's apparently a shoe-in for if he wants it, is the main character. He is our appointed representative in this world, with direct insight into Teddy's very small one. Which is a very strange, and at times, very strained place to be. But once Calvin starts coming under direct electronic attack from the trolls, he finds his own peace of mind rapidly frazzling too. By the time the pre-ending ending rolled around, I was actually far more engaged in hoping Calvin got a happy ending than Teddy. Well, he gets an ending... And this is yours.