Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #320: Kinski by Gabriel Hardman

Writers often try to explain that it's not the ideas but the execution, though readers often refuse to believe them. But it's very true: the ideas or inspiration for a story don't actually matter, only what's actually there on the page. It's complicated by the fact that those pages can always be interpreted in different ways -- there are very few stories outside early readers precise and linear enough that they can only be read one way -- but a smart and careful reader can generally tell if a story is successful at what it set out to do.


Gabriel Hardman's graphic novel Kinski is billed as a crime story, which is true in the broadest sense: it's about a man who steals a dog. But it's not much like any of the various things we call crime fiction: there are no detectives in it, no one is killed, no major crimes are planned or committed, the cast is not made up of career criminals or low-lifes, and the atmosphere is not dark and brooding. Instead, it's the story of a mania that we only see from the outside: surprising and puzzling and disconcerting and unlikely and possibly even unbelievable.

Joe is part of some kind of traveling sales team, in a small city somewhere: visiting with two colleagues to make a presentation and then fly back out. (Kinski is at its most crime-fictional in Hardman's flat refusal to explain most of the background details, in his insistence on just telling us the facts and the events.) Joe sees a dog, immediately wants/loves/needs it, and everything in his life gets wrapped up in that dog from that moment on, even if that's in conflict with everything he should do, for professional, ethical, or even self-preservation reasons.

Such an immediate connection is certainly possible, and a creator can make it feel immediate and true in his work. But Hardman instead assumes it: here's Joe, he says, and here's the dog he names Kinski. Joe will now go to outrageous lengths to keep Kinski, even once his real owners are found. Why does Joe love Kinski? (Does Joe love Kinski, or does he just grab onto the dog as a crutch in an itinerant life?) Hardman won't tell you why Joe does anything, just show you what Joe does, even if you find that ridiculous and bizarre.

So I can't say if any particular reader will enjoy Kinski. I'm not even sure if I did: I spent the first fifty or so pages thinking it was lousy because Joe's motivation was so utterly undefined. Later, I built a grudging respect for what Hardman was doing in this book, but I can't say it ever entirely convinced me. I don't understand Joe at all, and he's the core of this story. Maybe we're not meant to understand Joe, but what he does has to be plausible, or the story collapses.

Kinski is a series of odd, stark narrative choices dressed up as a crime story, drawn in black pen lines that seem to me slightly reminiscent of Klaus Janson. If you think that's the kind of thing you'd like, go check it out.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment