Friday, July 30, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 177 (7/30): Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I’m writing this into a Word file, in a half-dark hotel room slowly getting warmer, with no Internet access, intending to copy it into a blog post some time in the near future. You’re reading this – assuming you are at all – close to a week later.

A lightning strike, or downed tree, or something, cut power to this side of the street of National Harbor, Maryland – the mall that walks like a mixed-use development – early this afternoon, and it still hasn’t been fixed seven hours later. Hence the darkness, the warmth, the lack of phone and TV and Internet – there’s a generator somewhere, but it only provides emergency power. If it doesn’t get fixed soon, we’re all in for a hot, sweaty night.

Such are the joys of accounting conferences. [1]

But even when I can’t connect, Book-A-Day rumbles forward – partially because I’m five days ahead to begin with, and partially because the whole point of this stretch of Book-A-Day is to make me write, every single day, about a book I’ve read recently. (I may write well, or badly, say stupid or obvious or profound things; that doesn’t matter as much. I’d prefer to write well and be profound, obviously, but this is an essentially journalistic exercise – to bang out copy again and again, like punching a heavy bag, to build up that muscle and fix the habit.)

This afternoon, when the room was about ten degrees cooler and I could still hear the ducts rattle occasionally, I sat with the sun streaming through the windows and read the sixth and final volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” saga – the one in which Scott kinda looks like a girl on the cover (despite his Power of Love sword also looking like a portion of his external genitalia) – and it made me laugh and cheer and smirk and smile, several times over. It’s not perfect – in some ways, I’m not sure if it’s as strong and unified as the better earlier books in the series – but it has some great scenes, and more of O’Malley’s patented precise and perfect video-game references, and an ending that doesn’t promise too much for the romance of two twentysomethings but is still hopeful and romantic and transcendent in a way that turns the whole series into one rising arc.

Scott Pilgrim is still young, still brash, and still tends to forget every inconvenient fact or action in his past – but he’s less so as he goes along, his friends are continuing to call him on his flaws, and he’s getting better at the little details of being an adult. (Once again, the most exciting, special thing about the Scott Pilgrim books is the way O’Malley has channeled the standard shonen fighting-and-growing-up plot through 8-bit video games into a caricatured but recognizable story about real young people in real relationships.) Finest Hour starts out a bit slowly, as does Scott himself in most situations – he has to wander around and mope for a while before he can get down to doing what he really needs to do.

O’Malley works a complicated juggling act here – telling a story that seems to be all surfaces and secondhand action, while actually weaving complicated references (both to a shared culture of video games, and backward and foreword in this story) and using the fake-matter-of-fact video-game captions to both move forward the action and ironically comment on it. Most of all, his characters are real twentysomethings – confused, passionate, itching to do something but rarely sure about what. And, of course, there’s a big Kung Fu sword fight for the climax, with characters leveling up and fighting the real-world equivalent of the End Boss: their own doubts, fears, and pasts.

Or, to put it another way: all your base are belong to it.

[1] It’s not that bad; I have music playing – from my iPod through the clock radio – and a bottle of Redbridge – an actually non-sucky beer from the vast satanic mills of Anheuser-Busch – beside me to keep me cool. But it’s more fun to pretend to be tormented.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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