Blankets, by Craig Thompson
I’ve been thinking a lot, and talking a lot (much to the dismay of Casey, I’m sure) about this 600-page graphic novel by Portlander Thompson. I initially had a number of complaints about Blankets: It’s too whiny, too adolescent, the dialogue would never really be uttered in real life. But by the time I was done with it (all 582 illustrated pages took probably a few hours to tear through) I found myself clinging to the dreamy world of childhood innocence and first love that the powerful autobiographical tale builds. For any reader who has ever been in love, the stylized drawings of Raina and Craig are so touching, so perfect, that personal memories will flood to the surface in sympathy and fondness for young infatuation. The images do what the writing doesn’t, and Thompson has created the best argument for the graphic novel since Will Eisner decided superheroes were a waste of time. Blankets is intensely personal, beautiful and a work that anyone will fall for.
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
Hard-boiled detective classics have a Big 3 in my view: “The Big Sleep,” “Farewell My Lovely,” and “The Maltese Falcon.” But I recently finished a short novel by Dashiell Hammett from 1929, before Sam Spade was born, that really puts mid-century popular detective fiction to shame. Hammett’s first, “Red Harvest” isn’t polished, or clear in plot, or redeemable in character, but the themes of the Black Mask fiction are more powerful and violently present than in any book I’ve read. I think 20+ people are murdered, “The Continental Op,” a detective for a nationwide agency with slim morals is as brutal at times as the villains, and there is no big bad guy at the end. The only consistent messages in the labrynthine story are that death is everywhere, business will kill you, and law enforcement is just another gang. You won’t feel cheery after “Red Harvest,” but every work of noir you’ve read will seem watered down and pussified.