Groggy, haggard and feeling the familiar sting of a particularly heinous hangover, successful author Jonathan A. wakes up in a musty car, filled to the brim with useless relics and two disturbingly comfortable cats. To his left, sits a tiny woman whose physique easily qualifies her as a candidate for “Triassic Turf.” See, it’s been forever since she’s made love and A. is just so attractive.
Seconds later, as the bewildered author feebly grasps at memory’s straws, the local authorities decide to investigate – and he makes a run for it.
There, buried in the sand under the boardwalk at Asbury Park to evade capture, A. tries to piece together the intangible catalyst behind it all – what it was that brought him to this low.
This is how it starts.
The words – haunting, powerful and highly neurotic – fail to capture the complexity within renowned author and creator of the new HBO series “Bored to Death” Jonathan Ames’ highly personal graphic novel, “The Alcoholic.” Though the author initially described it as “about guy on a bender after his heart has been broken,” according to an interview on Newsarama, even he admits that the wealth of its many genres surpasses a single description. He elaborates that it is about a man who is “losing everyone he loves.”
If anything, “The Alcoholic” is a testament to chaos, sadness, shame, desperation, wit, struggle, loneliness, tragedy, happiness, identity and a plethora of other attributes so wide in range that they can only be felt in intoxication.
Following the life of the aptly-named Jonathan A. from his adolescent initiation into the illustrious ills of intoxication, though living vertigo of his mid-30s, we see a man’s life woefully spiral out of control.
The alcohol initially made him feel “cool,” he confessed and later allowed him to feel as though he was finally a part of a group. For a natural loner never quite comfortable within the oddly foreign confines of his own skin, this exquisite elixir set him free and provided a moment’s repose from vicious self-hatred.
Decidedly Kafka-esque in presentation, “The Alcoholic” is incredibly personal – at times too much.
A. may not have suffered the same parental neglect as Gregor, the bug of the “Metamorphosis,” but he feels his isolated desperation.
For fans of Franz Kafka, this book is a rare find and a decadent treat, delving into the oft-unexplored recesses of human emotion and vulnerability. For the rest of us, it often comes off as depressing and self-indulgent.
As readers, we see A.’s heartbreak, substance abuse and temporary triumphs. Most often, however, we see A. have sex – and have sex – and have sex.
Dean Haspiel, while particularly powerful with the pencils, has a tendency to be remarkably graphic. As is, however, the subject matter itself isn’t child-friendly, anyway.
Even so, it contains golden moments of shining wit and even sweeter sympathy. A.’s harried descent is handled with a touch of whimsy, while coated in a shell of tragedy. In the wake of September eleventh, the protagonist, barely shy of a routine nervous system strike, has the remarkable coincidence of meeting Bill Clinton and his former paramour, Monica Lewinsky, on the same day. The latter leads to a highly amusing scene, involving awkwardness and a kielbasa.
The characters within the critically-acclaimed tale are at once poignant, interesting and cleverly amusing. His great-aunt Sadie was the “Jewish Holly Golighly” in her youth. Now she just dates men decades her junior and lies about her age.
In the end, “The Alcoholic” is a story of a human life. It captives, repels, compels, disgusts and educates.
Most importantly, however, it entertains.