Tuesday, September 21, 2021

PTSD by Guillaume Singelin

It's the near future, or a near future. Some city, somewhere: relatively cosmopolitan, pretty big, diverse, full of activity. There's probably a government somewhere - we know they fought a war in the recent past - but they don't impinge on daily lives. Maybe it's a poor government, or a minimal one, or one that badly lost that war, or maybe just the people we see want nothing to do with the army of social workers who never show up on the page.

People live on the streets in this city, as they do in many cities. Some of them are just trying to get by, some of them are engaged in exploiting others - this may be illegal, or may not be, but there's no sign anyone important cares, either way. Many of these people on the streets are veterans of the recent war. Some are veterans of older wars.

There were always wars. There are always veterans. And many of them are deeply damaged, physically and mentally, from what they saw and did.

PTSD is the story of one veteran: Jun. She was a sniper: a very good one. But when we see her, she has only one eye and she's addicted to pain-killers (maybe for physical pain, more likely for sleeping and forgetting) and she's barely keeping it together on the streets of this city. Worse, she's actively hostile to help. This is more-or-les the story of how she turns herself around: how she finds a purpose, finds a way to accept help from other people and give help to other people, how she pulls out of a downward spiral and sets herself on a better path.

There's violence along the way. Jun is very good at violence. Wars are good at teaching that, or maybe at winnowing out the people who aren't good at violence. She's violent against the people who exploit others, mostly, so we're mostly on her side. Not everyone is: when you fight against someone, they fight back, and that's not necessarily just against you.

So Jun starts off alone and addicted, tormented and trapped by her own memories. She meets people, rejects them, but gets dragged into their lives almost against her will. She starts trying to do good - maybe at first partly because it's a way to be violent, and partly because some part of her wants to die violently, and partly because it's just something to do. She does find other ways to help, other things she knows how to do that are more productive than violence. Eventually.

The book is called PTSD. And a lot of the characters have PTSD, one way or another. But that's just who they are now: what this war did to them. PTSD for them is like gravity, or air - it's what water is to fish.

Guillaume Singelin shows rather than tells Jun's story, with a soft color palette and an art style that leans more to manga influences than Euro, but does incorporate both. This is not a lesson; it's a story. The title is a sneaky one, to make the reader think about how and why Jun is damaged rather than just enjoy this as another story about a veteran using her skills for violence in ways we're supposed to deplore but secretly love.

The book itself isn't overly sneaky, I suppose - I like sneaky books, so I'd be happy with even more of that here - but it's sneaky enough, and sneaky in smart ways. But it is smart, and told crisply: the story of one woman in a particular place and time, an interesting and diverse city, and how she survives and more than survives after a devastating shock. Those are all good material, and Singelin does good things with them here.

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