Rusty Brown by Chris Ware

A thick doorstop of a graphic novel… an experiment in storytelling and a look inside the suburban homes of American.

I took this book with me when I proctored the PSAT a couple weekends ago and I got 4 hours of time to delve in (interrupted by walking around the desks). Focused around a school in Omaha, Nebraska, Rusty Bown is populated by several students and a couple of the teachers. I want to tell you straight away that there are not many happy spots in this book. It seems to be one slog after another. Rusty’s endless torture of being bullied, his father’s mid-life crisis: a loveless marriage, a dead-end teaching career, and depression. Ware spins off a couple other characters: we see one of the bullies grow up and Rusty’s teacher’s span of her career teaching in the burbs as an African-American.

At its essence, this book it a peeling away of all the ways we try to justify life’s cruelty. We sugar coat and give cliches to life’s setbacks, but sometimes it just sucks. And maybe Ware has a penchant for finding that and reminding us? I don’t know. It’s a interesting read, but a rough one.

In regards to style, there’s some things I really liked and some things that made reading the book difficult. At the beginning of the book there are two stories being told on the same page. A series of small panels ticking along at the bottom of the page and a series of larger panels on the top 3/4 of the pages. I loved how these parts of the story were told and overlapped several times as the dual POVs interacted in the plot. Yet, many of the lettering were really small and made it difficult to read.

Going back to theme, there’s just a lot of self-loathing. Aloneness, depression, and guilt-ridden masturbation. (Yeah, lots of it.) And honestly, being a teacher myself, it was hard to read some of the positions he puts those characters in.

Yes, facisnating storytelling, but some of the content wore on me.

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