Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Amalia by Aude Picault

Amalia is stressed. Her job at Horizon Management - an account rep or phone support for some kind of B2B risk-management products - is hectic, so she's spewing happy talk at high speed to unhappy customers all day long. Her husband Karim is passive-aggressive when he's not yelling. Her preschool daughter Lili is loud and demanding and refuses to do what she's supposed to. And her teenage stepdaughter Nora is all drama, glued to her phone and obsessed with both following famous influencers and becoming one herself with endless makeup-application videos.

This is all in France, somewhere. Amalia drives through fields to go to work, but lives in what looks like an older city - my guess is it's a provincial city, maybe near the coast. It's just barely near-future; tech is exactly the same, but climate change is wreaking even greater havoc, with massive fish deaths and threats to the wheat harvest.

That last is another one of the stresses on Karim, who works at a Le Bon Pain factory, some kind of skilled bread-making worker but definitely not management.

In fact, they're all stressed, which titling the book Amalia might tend to hide for a while unless the reader pays attention. Amalia is central, but this isn't only her story. She's the one who breaks from the stress first, but that just makes her the vanguard. This is the story of Amalia, of her family, of their stresses, and what they do to make their lives more manageable - haltingly, tentatively, without clear direction and more than a little bit reactive to outside events. But we think they will make it through: more, we want them to make it through and we believe in them.

On the surface, Aude Picault's bande desinee is about the stresses of modern life, about needing to slow down, stop obsessing about little things, and find quietness. But it's also more specific than that: all of the stressors in Amalia's family's lives are because of modern capitalism, and the central ones are because of climate change in particular. This is not a strident book, not one that makes any political points directly, but it implies a lot more than it says: it points towards a solution to this kind of unsustainable life, and hints heavily that solution will require collective action and massive changes in how a lot of people live.

But it also says, in its quiet way, that everyone is already this stressed. Again, it's not just Amalia: she's just the one who breaks first. Picault is saying that we will all break, like this or differently, if this keeps going on. And so it can't keep going on.

This is an optimistic book, in the end: one that says we can fix these problems, that individuals can overcome stresses like this and confront big, systemic problems and maybe even solve them. I love it for that even as I think it paints an overly rosy picture.

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