(Throughout 2011, every month CCLaP staff writer Oriana Leckert is looking at a different graphic novel from a "girl's" point of view, examining this notoriously male-dominated medium from a female perspective, and sometimes aided by her fellow members of a Brooklyn book club devoted to the same subject. For all of Oriana's J&C essays, please see her main article index here at the site.)
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
By Josh Neufeld
Reviewed by Oriana Leckert
Two spooky things happened surrounding Jugs & Capes reading this book. The first was that--completely by chance, I swear--we scheduled our book-discussion meeting on the actual anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The second was that the week before said meeting, New York had our very own super-mega-huge-ass hurricane... Well, that's what we were led to believe was coming, anyhow, that Irene was howling toward us with her screaming rage, ready to visit upon our city destruction of a magnitude not glimpsed here in decades. Leading up to hurricane weekend, I'd paid little attention to the hysterical Twittersphere and the bleating warnings of my out-of-state friends...that is, until it was announced that Mayor Bloomberg was taking the historically unprecedented step of closing the entire MTA--all subways, all busses, all trains, all weekend long. At that point I began to worry that I really might not be taking this seriously enough.
At that point, also, I was finally getting around to reading A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, reading about all the blasé, jaded New Orleanians who paid little attention to the hysterical media and the bleating warnings of their out-of-state friends. And we all know what happened to them.
And you probably know what happened to me, too: I begrudgingly bought some water and an overpriced flashlight and a few cans of soup, it rained kinda hard for a few hours, my boyfriend and I rambled around our neighborhood finding the bars that had stayed open, the Gowanus Canal dribbled a teeny bit of toxic juice up over her banks, and everything was back to normal by Monday, in time for me to go to the Jugs & Capes meeting and talk about this book.
Do you want to know what I think about this book? The first thing I think is that the art is fantastic. (By this I mean the actual drawings, not the weird monochromatic patterning, which is not dissimilar to that of Asterios Polyp, except that there it enhanced the story and here it detracted and distracted.) The second thing I think is that there is so much pathos, so much devastation and misery and despair in the events related in this story, that it almost doesn't even matter how it's rendered, there will necessarily be parts that grab you, that make you gasp, that bring you to tears. I cried twice, maybe twice and a half.
That's the good.
The bad is that Josh seems to have bitten off much more than he can chew with this book. The idea of choosing five different people to follow through the storm and its aftermath was a good one, but it was way overly ambitious. To give all five different stories the space they deserve would have required five entire books. As it was, I was only able to connect emotionally with half of them, and the rest wound up coming across as two-dimensional stand-ins--the black kid, the hipster, the rich gay--thus essentially canceling their stories and their voices. Though the other two--a lower-income black woman and a Middle Eastern convenience store owner--were riveting and devastating and moving and harrowing, that wasn't enough to carry the book.
It feels wrong to criticize such a worthwhile project, and I'm sorry. But while it was a great attempt, and must have taken an insane amount of work to do, it fell far short of its potential.