Review: Exit Wounds, Rutu Modan

Exit Wounds was a gift from Ella, formerly of Box of Books and now of Now with Pictures. Ella is fantastic. She has a series of picture vignettes about her imaginary ancestors that you really need to go investigate right now. (Here is the first one.) One time she drew an awesome picture of a memory I shared with her about playing hurricane with my sisters as a kid. Recently I came home from a smashing day of discovering $3 margaritas, and found, fittingly, a box of books on my doorstep from Ella. It contained Cold Comfort Farm, Exit Wounds, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Ratking, and The Circular Staircase. I was so excited! Having been in a minor graphic novel slump, I started with Exit Wounds. When I opened it, I discovered Ella had enclosed this adorable picture of a platypus. Yay.

Exit Wounds is all about a taxi driver in Tel Aviv called Koby Franco who is contacted by a woman named Nuni. Nuni, who has been romantically involved with Koby’s estranged father Gabriel, has begun to worry that Gabriel was killed in a recent train station bombing. She hasn’t heard from him (in several weeks, as it turns out); one of the bodies from the explosion has not yet been identified; and when Koby visits his father’s apartment, he finds it empty, with mold growing on the food in the kitchen. Though Koby is disgusted with his father for his father’s many affairs, particularly this most recent one with the much-younger Nuni, he begins to worry. He says this, which I love:

I thought I would never want to see him again as long as I lived. But now I realized that I was always sure we would meet again, sometime in the distant future. We’d finish the fight we’d been having our whole lives and then he would finally apologize.

(I sometimes worry that I’m ruining things for you by sharing the best (to me) bits of a book I’ve read. Like if I read Lolita and quoted that line about making it up very gently in my review. Only that line really depends on context to achieve its maximum chilling effect, and I think the thing I’ve just quoted is poignant anyway. Notice how I haven’t actually said the line from Lolita. By the way, you should read Lolita.)

Exit Wounds is a lovely and strange and unpredictable story. With a plot that could incline towards melodrama (a fault of which, again, I am generally extremely forgiving), Exit Wounds is surprisingly quiet and restrained. There’s never a big reveal, or a Shocking Plot Twist™, just a lot of small character moments that show you how little people are knowable, even the people theoretically closest to you.

I also liked it that Exit Wounds talked about the way its characters look. I really love it when comics do this. Sometimes they leave it alone, because it’s easy for a traditional book to say “it was like a Greek face, very pure in outline” or “an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen”. In a graphic novel your artist has to be able to draw what you’re describing, and artists’ styles differ so much. A beautiful character can look all weird and elongated if that’s how the artist draws, and then I am always thinking, Wait, do the other characters notice her freakishly long neck and toothpick wrists? So I like it when a graphic novel hangs a lampshade on it. (“I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”) Nuni talks about being self-conscious about the way she looks, that she’s not beautiful and slim and all the rest of it. Yay to Rutu Modan for having a non-slim-beautiful woman, and yay for depicting it in pictures and then talking about it.

Graphic novel slump semi-busted! I would now like to have a streak of graphic novels to read and enjoy as much as I did Exit Wounds. Meantime I am reading one issue of Sandman a day, right before bed. I tried this once before, when I was reading it for the first time, but I only made it halfway through A Game of You before I had to give up and read it all at once. This time I know what happens in the end, so it should be okay.

Also read Exit Wounds:

A Striped Armchair
Book Addiction
Boston Bibliophile
Largehearted Boy

Did I miss yours? Tell me!