Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #112: Red Eye, Black Eye by K. Thor Jensen

Grand gestures and bizarre exploits are for the young, because you're never going to get any of us older people to do any of that. So if I told you a book was about a man's two-month odyssey across the US, armed with a Greyhound Ameripass and a list of people who'd agreed to let him couch-surf, you'd immediately have an image of him: young, disheveled, toting a backpack, probably dressed mostly in black.

And if you were talking about the trip K. Thor Jensen chronicled in Red Eye, Black Eye, you would be entirely correct -- that's pretty much who Jensen was. He was young, he was rootless -- the earl pages show his losing his job, girlfriend, and apartment in rapid succession -- and September 11th filled him with a desire to get out of New York and go somewhere else.

Red Eye, Black Eye is the story of that trip, told in a six-panel grid with an appealingly loose, relaxed art style. It's inherently episodic, of course -- the whole point of the exercise was to go to a bunch of places, stay there a few days, and then move on -- but Jensen makes it even more so by breaking his graphic novel into chapters by cities, and by asking his hosts along the way to tell him stories of their lives and exploits, and presenting those within his narrative as sub-stories.

For a book that could be spun as being about the young and aimless in America, Red Eye, Black Eye is remarkably sunny and open-hearted. Jensen doesn't get into any of the fights he intermittently looks for, and finds mostly kindness wherever he goes. (From the example of the later 120 Days of Simon, about a similar odyssey in Sweden, I'd expected more sex -- but, if Jensen got lucky in any of his stops across the country, he was totally discreet about it here.)

I do have to admit that I don't know what the title means. Jensen did express a desire to get into a fight -- to get a black eye out of it -- but the "Red Eye" piece escapes me. (He doesn't take a plane at any time, let alone a late-night one.) Maybe it's a reference to crying, or irritation from the 9-11 ash. In any case, Jensen saw the country, with two eyes -- when he was still young enough to do something crazy like this -- and turned it into a fine collection of moments and stories.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment