Distasteful Familiarity Makes The Alcoholic a Power Read A Review of Jonathan Ames "The Alcoholic", Illustrated by Dean Haspiel By Michael DeMeritt I have been reading memoirs of some form or other in high volume these last 30 days. I think Jonathan...
Distasteful Familiarity Makes The Alcoholic a Power Read
A Review of Jonathan Ames "The Alcoholic", Illustrated by Dean Haspiel
By Michael DeMeritt
I have been reading memoirs of some form or other in high volume these last 30 days. I think Jonathan Ames has hit on a great way to tell a biographical, or semi-biographical, narrative - tell it as a comic book. Now, to be clear, Jonathan Ames does not claim The Alcoholic to be a biography, the back cover declaring the main character of the work, Jonathan A, to be a boozed up, sexually confused, hopelessly romantic, entirely fictional novelist who bears only a coincidental resemblance to the author, but I read it as biographical anyway. Just maybe not entirely true.
This Vertigo print, a graphic novel in black and white, has a strong sense of self within it. You can believe every aspect of Jonathan A''s life to be true. It is bluntly honest in tone, so blunt as to be a heavy bludgeon if you are sensitive to stories of people abusing each other, screwing up their lives, and continually making the same mistakes. The title lets you know the book will be a downer, and it certainly delivers with the dark, bottom-of-the-barrel, portrayal of the main subject. We experience Jonathan''s addictions, his ineptitude sexually, his few homosexual experiences, and - of course - his painful addiction and the price he pays to maintain it. It is creepy in design, hitting sour notes unapologetically and with little mincing of words.
Yet the reason why this effort works is the underlying subtext of a failing soul trying not to fail, pushing against his short comings to rise to often great heights, and in the very fact that the sex and drink and drugs laced throughout are not played either superficially cool nor horrifically tragic all the time. It is a testament, really, to the pain of being deeply in love with someone not right for you, unavailable to you, and dominating your thoughts and dreams to the point where any method to suppress the heartbreak you have (and have caused) is reached for with reckless abandon.
It is this drama, cleanly visualized by artist Dean Haspiel, which separates this tome from more wordy counterparts in the autobiography section. The story has all the impact expected, without the lengthy diatribe so commonly found in the genre. The story of Jonathan Ames also manages a neat trick. Certainly the writing speaks in a familiar "I get it" voice to those suffering similar happenstance. But it also manages to make a less (or completely not) so afflicted soul just a bit jealous. Jonathan survives a wild life, and often those who avoided such wildness in youth hold an illogical envy for not having risked more, having felt more, or having discovered more. Somehow, despite the images of Jonathan passed out in a puke filled garbage can, repeatedly experiencing premature ejaculation in his relationships, suffering uncontrolled anal leakage, and suffering badly as he loses loved ones in different ways time and time again, the author manages to deliver a message that this guy has lived a life. One most readers would not have survived themselves, and for those that did, would never have dared to tell in such a public way.
It''s a voyeuristic trick, really, a deception to hook you into turning the page into some other disgusting bit of Jonathan''s history, but it is played well. The book itself shows sexual activity of both homosexual and heterosexual nature, drug use, and lots a nudity, violence and pain, so don''t think is a good read for little Tommy because it is a cartoon book. The mature audience it is intended for will not get far past the first few pages if these issues make them squeamish. For the rest of us, we have a surprisingly effective tale worth the read.