So, I wanted to devote a post to The Killing Joke, the Batman book (graphic novel? comic?) that has defined the series since it was published, but it’s hard to find the right words for it. It was beautiful, and horrible, and terrifying, and thought-provoking, and sad. In The Killing Joke, writer Alan Moore takes the awkward and comical Joker and turns him into something vile and sympathetic, like the abyss from the famous Nietzche quote.
After I read it, I left the book on the couch for several days, but every time I walked by the illustration on the back cover, poor Jack White with desperate smiling eyes, would give me the jibblies.
Eventually, I buried it in a pile of pillows.
To wash the Batman off, I immediately started in on I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson.
I was pretty sure it was going to be shmaltzy. I Thought You Were Dead is is the story of Paul Gustavson, divorcee, bad son, dog owner. After his father has a stroke, he begins to examine his own mortality and his relationship with relationships in general. The only constant is his fifteen year old dog, Stella, who casually speaks to him throughout the novel, providing him with the only unconditional love he has.
Now, the next part of this contains some spoilers, I guess, but they’re the most general, guessable kind of spoilers. Were you surprised that Harry Potter defeated Voldemort? Were you astounded when John McClane killed a dude in Die Hard? If you honestly thought that Frodo was going to get murdered by poisonous ghost kings in the first Lord Of The Rings movie/book, then it may…it may somewhat shock you that Stella, the fifteen year old dog, totally dies.
Last Monday I went to bed on time (a trick I have been cultivating these last few weeks) and decided to pull out I Thought You Were Dead to read a single chapter before turning off the light. I was expecting to finish the book by Thursday, maybe Friday. No rush. The book has a meandering natural pace that doesn’t lend itself to end-of-your-seat suspense, so I never felt compelled to read more than one or two chapters at a time.
So I brushed me teeth and washed my face, slipped between the sheets, and pulled out the book, and started reading. Blah blah blah…Paul feels lost…blah blah blah…Paul walks around thinking about things…blah blah blah…Paul can’t sleep, stays up late pondering his life…
At this point in the scene, Stella, sweet old arthritic dog, pulls herself next to Paul and calmly tells him it’s time. She wants to be taken to the kennel to be put to sleep.
Immediately tears start pouring out of the corners of my eyes, soaking my pillow and getting stuck in my ears.
“Oh, God damn it!” I yelled.
I kept reading.
Paul and Stella talk. I won’t get into the specifics. Go read it, but you guys. Get some dang tissues. After one or two trips to get individual Kleenexes I gave up and got a toilet paper roll out of the bathroom closet and sat up in bed. The chapter ended with Paul alone, standing quietly in the house where Stella used to be. I felt betrayed. One chapter. One chapter? What the hell was I supposed to do now? Just go to sleep? I tried to calm all the sobbing down, but just ended up honking like a constipated goose as my nose ran and my breath stuck in my throat. I threw the toilet paper roll across the room and turned the page to the next chapter, weeping openly.
“God double damn it,” I cursed, wiping my nose with my sheets.
To cut a long story short, I finished the book that night.
The last section of I Thought You Were Dead, a section that I devoured all at once, took the quiet build up from the previous pages and released it in a way that felt natural and fitting. There were no huge dramatic moments. There were no amazing revelations or shoot outs. Paul Gustavson finished his story organically and realistically. It was satisfying.
And maybe, yeah, okay, maybe a little shmaltzy. But after the snot-fest I needed a little bit of wholesome schmaltz to soak up all the heartbreak.
I Thought You Were Dead is not a beautiful book. It is not particularly deep or meaningful, but it is reflective. It is about complicated people who are actually only about as complicated as any normal people are, and it is written in a casual-matter of fact way that is easy to read. I would say that it’s an airplane book, or a bus book, if you don’t mind spending fifteen minutes bawling your face off in front of strangers.
You all may have noticed that on the sidebar I have added a ‘Currently Reading’ list. I appreciate all of the suggestions that have come pouring in, and I am making it my little side project to read them all.
I may continue to do little reviews as well, if ya’ll don’t mind them. Suggestions welcome, and if you’ve read the books, feel free to agree or disagree!