The best thing about Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel’s graphic novel The Alcoholic is it engages you fast and reads quickly. This way, by the time you get to the truly disappointing ending you’ve only invested about an hour of your time.
I picked up The Alcoholic because I thought it was a graphic memoir. Having had such exquisite experiences with Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, I was licking my chops in anticipation. Though I’d never read Ames’ work before I was familiar with him from This American Life.
The Alcoholic tells the story of a Jonathan A. and his love affair with booze and drugs. It starts out with Jonathan passed out in a station wagon with an amorous, drunken dwarf. Pretty awesome. From there Jonathan tells us how he landed in such a spot going back to his drinking days in high school and college, the tragic loss of his parents at an early age, therapy, 9/11, and some other stuff.
Before I get to bitching, I have to say that the scenes leading up to, during, and right after 9/11 are pretty awesome. It’s chilling and moving. As my eyes teared up reading the words and looking at the pictures, I wondered if there would ever be a time in my life where stories about 9/11 don’t make me cry.
Anyway, I said this is a quick and engaging read. If it were a memoir, I’d cut it a lot more slack for it’s totally confusing and bullshit ending. But this isn’t a graphic memoir, it’s an exercise in fictiony-fact or facty-fiction. Blah.
As a reader I try not to get too hung up on the fiction or memoir labels. But it’s tough. I am willing to take the “truth” of a memoir with a grain of salt. I also fully believe that there is a lot of actual fact in fiction. But not knowing where I was supposed to be while reading this graphic novel really kept me off my game.
Here’s why: it wasn’t fantastic enough, big enough, or emotional enough to work as fiction. It was just small enough, plausible enough, believable enough to work as a memoir, but it wasn’t a memoir.
Then ending is really bad and confusing. It felt as though Ames and Haspiel were given a limited number of pages and realized quickly that they were running out of space or they were bored with their own story. The last few pages are a compressed jumble of confusing actions that seem to come out of nowhere. It was so confusing I had to check to make sure my copy of the book wasn’t missing pages.
Despite my misgivings, I still read the entire book in one sitting. It took about an hour and even though I hated the ending (and the weird obsessive relationship the 31-year-old character has with a 23-year-old girl who dumps him), I enjoyed it. It beats sitting around watching Cosby Show re-runs.