Friday, June 20, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #170: The Iron Wagon by Jason

The question of what book to start with -- for a particular writer or genre or motif -- is a standard topic of argument in literary circles. (And here "literary" has the broadest possible meaning, of people who read that kind of book.) But there's vastly less discussion of the worst possible book to begin with for a particular author -- and, possibly because I'm reflexively contrarian, it's a question that I find deeply interesting.

Especially today. Because today is the day I read The Iron Wagon, a graphic novel by the Norwegian cartoonist Jason, and I can say definitely that it's clearly the worst place to begin with his work. It's not a bad book -- using that criterion to define the worst would be cheating, to my mind -- but it's massively uncharacteristic of Jason's work, an oddball outlier with only a very few slender lines of connection to his other books.

I've reviewed a lot of Jason books here -- just this week, Hey, Wait... and Sshhhh!, with Low Moon, Isle of 100,000 Graves, Lost Cat, Werewolves of Montpelier, You Can't Get There From Here, Tell Me Something, and Meow, Baby! earlier than that -- so I won't go into too much detail about the typical Jason story. But Jason typically works with genre materials -- zombies, detectives, time travel, lovers on the run -- and treats them with an absurdist, deadpan affect strengthened by his drawing style, in which all of the characters are blank-faced anthropomorphic animals, without pupils and often without dialogue, either. The crux of a Jason story is the tension between the expected genre story and what actually happens: maybe tension is unexpectedly deflated, maybe death comes suddenly from a surprising direction, maybe different genre elements come crashing in from left field half way through.

The Iron Wagon is very little like that: it's a graphic adaptation of the classic 1909 Norwegian murder novel of the same title by Stein Riverton. In a remote portion of Norway, a game warden is murdered, and our viewpoint character, a novelist vacationing in the vicinity for the summer, tags along with the detective from the capital who comes to solve the crime. The plot follows expected paths: there's an older mystery that get solved along the way, and a creepy local legend, and a femme fatale, of a sort. What there is, more than anything else, is lots and lots of dialogue -- Jason and/or his translator Kim Thompson render this all colloquially and crisply, but it still doesn't change the fact that The Iron Wagon possibly has more dialogue than all of Jason's other books put together.

There's something like a twist ending -- though any reader of mysteries will have expected that particular twist from the first -- and  a very traditional ending of justice served. The former is not unlike Jason, but the latter is very uncharacteristic -- maybe even more so than the dialogue. The Jasonian universe is a cold and unfeeling one, buffeting its inhabitants and cosseting them based on random whim and chance -- there is no justice in Jason's own work, only what happens.

So: The Iron Wagon is a bad choice for a new Jason reader. But, if you've already seen I Killed Adolph Hitler or The Left Bank Gang or The Last Musketeer, it could be interesting for parallax. And Jason's drawing and page design are excellent here as always. Just not being first doesn't mean it should be avoided....

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment