Friday, January 18, 2008

The Jew of New York, by Ben Katchor

A review in two parts....

Tuesday I left my copy of Great Expectations in my office, and I had absolutely no intention of going to work on Wednesday when a) I didn't have to b) it's a 40-minute drive there and back and gas prices are stupidly high. So, I just had to make arrangements for a short, temporary book to read in the between time.

I picked up Ben Katchor's much-praised graphic novel, The Jew of New York, which I chose for this challenge after hearing about it in a multi-ethnic literature survey course I guest-lectured in a year or two ago. It's a short book, only 94 pages, and given my usual speed at reading graphic novels, I expected to finish it over the course of Wednesday afternoon and evening.

Not so much.

This graphic novel drags like no other I've ever read. Seriously, I'm amazed at how much I dislike it. Especially since Katchor, a cartoonist for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Metropolis Magazine, etc. is highly praised in every comics forum I've ever run across. The Comics Journal, various reputable 'zines, my grad school professor who works in Jewish lit and multi-ethnic studies ALL praise him like he's the high priest of innovative comics. He's a talented guy...apparently.

I am, in fact, woman enough to admit that maybe...likely...I just don't get it. Stacked on top of that, is my admission that I generally don't really care for absurdist literary works, and Katchor's work is highly absurd. Some of the characters include a disgraced kosher slaughterer, an importer of religious articles, a man with plans to carbonate Lake Erie, and an anonymous man in a rubber suit. At first glance, this sounds like something I would enjoy. I enjoy weird characters, but not when they just wander around, wear bed sheets, sleep on lawns and skin beavers (hmmm, maybe I should spend more time examining the sexual implications).

The Jew of New York is essentially a series of character sketches, disjointed threads, that supposedly all come together in the end. How do I know? I consulted Google. I was so thrown by how much I dislike this book and don't get its "greatness" that I went a'Googling for nuggets to keep me going.

Until further notice, I'm going to assume that this book will come together in some thoughtful, meaningful, genius way that makes me admire it. But for now, I'm just sort of dazed.

Stay tuned...


I finished it. I sort of get what Katchor was going for. It's all very weird and ironic and tongue-in-cheek, and it was just painful to read. Additionally, I didn't find it a terribly well constructed example of graphic narrative. The text practically overtakes the images, the images generally don't help propel the narrative, and it was tiresome and frustrating for those very reasons.

Rating: 4/10 - Ugg.

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