by Daniel Clowes
After the misadventures of the glorious Wilson comes another Clowesian anti-hero, Marshall. Previously serialised in the New York Times, this collection of strips is brought together in his latest book through Jonathan Cape and presents an opportunity for us in the UK to follow another middle-aged man with a unique take on the world around him. With one failed marriage behind him ('I won't go into detail but let's just say my wife had some issues with fidelity, and several of my friends were involved, and when it ended I had neither wife nor friends.') and without having been on a date for six years it could well have been a future of 'increasing irrelevance' for Marshall had he not been recently bolstered by the evening he was '"befriended" by a strange woman' ('It was sort of like "Breakfast at Tiffany's," except in this version, Holly Golightly is an unstable, crack-snorting sociopath.'). So we join Marshall as he waits alone at a table for the blind date that has been organised by his friends.
His date is late however so we are thrown straight into Marshall's interior monologue which will dominate the story, sometimes riding over the speech bubbles themselves so that we get a sense of his losing track of the conversation as he comments on how the evening is going. After having virtually given up on his date and downed a couple of beers she suddenly appears. Natalie is a good-looking woman and so Marshall is simultaneously smitten and convinced he doesn't stand a chance ('Jesus, why am I self-deprecating even in my own interior monologue?'). This book is subtitled 'A Love Story' and described as a 'romance' by Clowes but anyone who has read any of his work before will know that things are never that simple. Damaged in their own ways, Marshall and Natalie stumble their way through an evening that always threatens to derail completely, events finally coming to a head at a party that Natalie had arranged to go to previously and to which she brings Marshall.
Marshall's fantasies about where this meeting may lead are dotted throughout, as is his tendency to let his temper get the better of him. There is certainly a more positive outlook to this book compared to Wilson but there is enough of that sharp humour to stop things getting too sappy. What is lovely is that Clowes wants to show that no matter what relationship disasters may lie in the past there is always the hope that there will be someone out there to help us make a better fist of things - even on a potentially disastrous evening where fists themselves will come into play on more than one occasion. Ah well, 'The course of true love never did run smooth.'