Herman Melville (#110 of 3)

Far from Home Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

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Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

A question for the history of the graphic novel: Will anyone ever write a cartoon equivalent of Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or For Whom the Bell Tolls? Will there ever be a cartoonist who in his or her real life does a bunch of dangerous and exciting stuff, such as work on a whaling ship, pilot a river boat, or fight in a war, and who then sublimates those experiences via the imagination into a work of fiction that’s vivid and dense and spiritually substantial? More specifically, will there ever be a cartoonist who can combine with his or her comics all that you get in Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin (the audacity, the action, the energetic globetrotting) with all that you get in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (the disappointment, the ambiguity, the baroque psychology)?

Guy Delisle’s new Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a nonfictional graphic novel about being far away from home in an occasionally dangerous and precarious and confusing place. It’s about living for a year in Israel while trying to be a husband, a father, and an itinerant cartoonist. Insofar as it’s a memoir, Jerusalem is low-key and humorous, and brings to mind Ross McElwee’s documentary Sherman’s March. Insofar as it’s a travelogue, Jerusalem is inquisitive and observant, and brings to mind another doc: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. As a whole, the book is both enjoyable and instructive; it makes you chuckle and grin, and it makes you feel like a more informed, concerned citizen of the world.

Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding and the Art of the Narrative Confine

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Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding and the Art of the Narrative Confine
Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding and the Art of the Narrative Confine

In retrospect, college is an experience defined by its comforts. The responsibilities of young adulthood are often largely confined to academics and social maturation before they yield to the expenses incurred over four years, which are then exacerbated by new demands: meeting rent and converting one’s new expertise into gainful employment.

The petri dish of college, and its invitation to unfettered self-enhancement and self-discovery, make a convenient, insulated setting for a novel, one where human drama can play out with relatively minor consequences and characters can seem witty and idealistic without raising any eyebrows. Chad Harbach’s winning debut novel, The Art of Fielding, takes great advantage of its cozy narrative confines, though its final pages are perhaps too enamored of them.

Harbach’s appealing cast of characters is led by Henry Skrimshander, a “scrawny novelty of a shortstop” who turns out to be an impeccable defensive presence on the field. Skrimmer, as he comes to be known, is recruited to tiny Westish College—which sits on a hill overlooking Lake Michigan—by Mike Schwartz, the baseball team’s captain and hulking spiritual leader.

Henry arrives at Westish with little but for his personal bible, a book called The Art of Fielding, written by his idol, Aparicio Rodriguez (modeled closely after Ozzie Smith). The book imparts a Zen wisdom and awareness Henry attempts to master on the baseball field, and more clumsily adopts off the field as well. (Snippets offered include “The true fielder lets the path of the ball become his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense” and “There are three stages: Thoughtless being. Thought. Return to thoughtless being.”) Henry’s clumsy stoicism is well remarked upon by Harbach, in lines like “Henry nodded in a way he hoped was appropriate.”