Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2023 November 08 • Wednesday

A new Daniel Clowes book is definitely an event and here it is: Monica.

So what's it about? Beats me. It's ostensibly about a woman named Monica trying to find out about her parents, particularly her mother, who was a hippie dropout in the '60s.

The path is not straightforward, however, and the story itself is told on a few different levels. More observant readers than I noted how different page colors in the book itself are a clue to the narrative's source.

Monica herself is a classically unreliable narrator and Clowes has packed his latest book with more elisions, ellipses, obfuscations and misdirections than are found in any of his other volumes.

Several years ago Clowes dropped a sort of manifesto in an issue of Eightball after which his work took on a decidedly Nabokovian aspect. A painter named Krugg probably signals this influence and perhaps the marshalling of all available macro and micro details to serve an intensely powerful singular vision is also thus inspired.

There are some devastatingly convincing character sketches as well as a run through quite a few number of genres. The EC war comics jumped out at me immediately, but for some of the others I had to rely on this interview with Clowes in the New Yorker magazine.

While much of the story is doggedly realistic it does occasionally go off the rails with a vengeance and it's not clear exactly what the reader is supposed to make of it.

There seems to be a very real, not imagined end of the world apocalypse horror scenario but other scenes, like a haunted radio and some tenuously connected horror and fantasy vignettes, are harder to connect to the larger story, at least for me.

If I gave it a second, close reading, and then a third or even a fourth after that, would I discover its secrets? Would the meaning become clear?

It's possible but I confess to a certain pessimism. I'm worried that too much might actually be hidden for a full understanding. Monica got off to a slow start for me but I found myself drawn in and fully absorbed soon enough to want more than unresolved ambiguity.

If the ambiguity is ultimately and intentionally unable to be resolved, well, that's fine—David Lynch has built an entire career on ambiguity for its own sake—but I think Clowes could actually pull off something greater.

And maybe he's done just that in this book right here and I didn't see it. I suppose I'll have to return to it at some point in hopes of further discoveries.