Thursday, August 11, 2022

Body and Soul by Gregory Mardon

Everyone who thinks about stories has a fondness for this structure: it's elegant and fun, and the kind of thing that people who make and analyze stories love. (Of the books I have never and will never write, several are like this.)

I don't mean that as dismissive: it's hard to do well, and it's complicated at its base. But it's a little bit of a cliché, too.

What I mean is the round-robin kind of story. You know, start with Character 1, who interacts with Character 2, who then interacts with Character 3, and so on - usually circling back to 1 eventually, and often doing the loop more than once or making more complex circuits through the cast before it's done. Done well, it shows character really well, and gives a picture of the whole group: a community, people involved in some particular thing, or (most usually) just a cross-section of this time and place.

Gregory Mardon's 2018 bande dessinee Body and Soul is exactly that kind of story, set in contemporary Paris and centered on one family (fiftyish doctor father and youth-obsessed mother, twenty-something free spirit daughter and teen grump daughter). Also part of the mix are the secretary at the doctor's practice and his best friend, an aspiring actor, plus an old lady only tangentially related to multiple threads and the twenty-something woman's scam-artist boyfriend/partner. They're all on the cover: if you read Body and Soul, the cover might be useful as a way to remember and place everyone and their relationships.

To give more details, I'd have to tell the story, and the story is not really the point: the connections, especially cross-connections, are the point, and how the reader discovers and realizes them while reading. Even telling you it's that kind of story might be a minor spoiler, I guess.

The cover makes it look like the older daughter is the center: that's her in the front. But her mother is more important in the end: she seems like a cliché at first, but she's on more pages and more deeply involved in more of the stories by the end. (Whether this is some kind of buried sexism - she's the mother, so of course she's the one who pulls everyone together - I'll leave for everyone to decide themselves.)

Body and Soul has no huge lessons to impart: it's renormative, in a minor way, but it's mostly just observing these people and their lives. It's neither sympathetic nor unsympathetic, I guess: it's just looking to see what happens next. And it is a good example of this kind of story, so if you're the kind of person who likes to analyze stories and who gravitates to the ones with interesting structures, this is definitely for you.

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