What can I say? I first asked for a copy of this graphic novel by Shiga since it was set in Oakland, and I'm an old East Bay boy myself. I'm always keen to see how an area so deeply imprinted on a cellular level is represented in other art. Would he get it "right," as viewed through the prism of my own memories (and return trips?)
For starters, Shiga works in a cartoony style that normally isn't my favorite mode for self-reflective graphic memoirs about love gone, well, not awry -- just never getting out of the starting blocks. Subject aside, the style is less "graphic" and more Sunday Funny-ish.
But my objections were quickly assuaged, in no small part because Shiga gets his Oakland right: There's Casper's Hot Dogs! There's Children's Fairyland! There are a bunch of old Victorians which could be right off Telegraph Avenue near MacArthur! Et cetera. But having a definitive sense of place (and given the book's title, you won't be surprised to learn the action switches from the East Bay to New York, after a fateful bus trip) doesn't make the story riveting on its own (just, for some of us, familiar!)
It's Shiga's wry/gentle -- and ultimately kind -- way of writing about his overly-smart, twentysomethingy characters who can joke about Fermi estimations of vaginas and where the McSweeney's is placed on their bookshelves, but who have a hard time -- like the rest of us -- asking for what they really need. Or dream about.
Speaking of which, the real Oakland is on the verge of shuttering its real libraries -- where, in this book, the Shiga character works -- due to the usual apocalyptic transfers of wealth from the public sector to the ultra-rich. It might be interesting to see if Shiga follows up this work on the politics of the heart with his characters facing the politics of politics. I'd certainly trust his eye for observation.
A shorter version of this review appeared in Nexus Graphica