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Brooklyn Dreams Hardcover – January 24, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
On an ordinary night in an ordinary Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1960s, Vincent Carl Santini, alienated high school senior and budding philosopher, meets his guardian angel in the form of a stray dog. It takes the length of this book to tell readers why this hound is so special, and details are still murky at story's end. But Carl spins such a madly glorious tale of the confusion and transcendence of his teen years that readers may excuse his wanderings. DeMatteis's story is hypnotic, and Barr's b&w artwork keeps pace with the plot's twists, swooping from pencil to watercolor to ink as he captures the wild enthusiasms and fears of Carl's world. The book begins with Carl depicted as a Masterpiece Theater sort of narrator, sitting alone in a chair, waiting to raise the curtain on his senior year in high school. The set is an archetypal apartment building in a solidly middle-class neighborhood. The cast includes Carl, his best friend and Carl's volatile family. His father is a brash, emotional Italian; his mother is a nervous Jew. Sixteen-year-old Carl mostly sits on his stoop and reads, as jaded with life as only a teenager can be. The stray appears and Carl adopts it, but gives it away at the local police precinct. A few weeks later he's back at the station, this time taken in for drug possession. In between these two episodes, Carl recalls earlier memories of friends, the black humor of his Uncle Fred's funeral, his parents' bottomless capacity for melodrama, and life's meaning.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
*Starred Review* In this chunky graphic novel, fortyish Vincent Carl Santini recalls his senior year (1970-71) in high school. But first he retreats to August, before school opened, when he adopted a scruffy dog his parents quickly made him give up, before advancing a little into senior year and the time he got arrested while carrying drugs. By the time he is through with those stories, the book is three-quarters over. He can't help digressing, you see, to tell us about his Jewish mother and Italian Catholic father; how he was known as Carl, not Vincent; his best friend "Shane"; his fear of death; and his strong religious sensibility, despite his boredom with Judaism and Catholicism. Each digression is richly detailed and packed with humor, as are the stories they augment, which finally include those of his honors English class, the first girl he really loved, and the hilariously anticlimactic "trip" during which he discovered "the key to the universe" (actually, his first real sense of himself in the world). To contrast the narrator's present and the narrative's past, Barr draws the adult Santini realistically and young Carl as a caricature, filling both styles with expressive gestures varying from the explosive to the nuanced. As graphically distinguished and creatively novelistic a graphic novel as has ever been, this is a classic of the form. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
But as the narrator reminds us, "This is a story about God."
The voice of an adult Carl Vincent (or Vincent Carl) Santini -- don't worry, that's all explained -- provides the running commentary as we observe & enter into the troubled, searching life of our young protagonist, struggling to express himself, struggling to understand himself & the Universe, searching for Something long before he's consciously aware of it.
DeMatteis' prose is deceptively casual & easy-going, drawing the reader in as a confidante, but it's also insightful & honest. He cares passionately about the story he's sharing with us & that passion comes through. At the same time, his sense of humor prevents his story from ever becoming pretentious.
The powerful artwork of Glenn Barr brings this story to vivid life, changing to suit the tones of the story, ranging from cartoony to photo-realistic, often in the same panel. You'll pause & linger over many a page for the illustrations as much as for the words.
Quite a few writers are mentioned in the course of this story, all the usual suspects on the Road to Self-Discovery & Meaning -- Hesse, Huxley, Dostoyevsky, etc. Add DeMatteis to their company & get a copy of this superb book. I can't recommend it highly enough!
Starting with a stray dog named Bilbo, Brooklyn native Vincent Carl Santini narrates the quasi-memoir of his youth. It's crammed with casual drug use, raging hormones, and an enduring love for his old neighborhood. It also details painful family histories, the type that can make even the most cynical reader squirm with discomfort because it's all too familiar.
Glenn Barr's black and white artwork, ranging from sketchy doodles to finely executed watercolors, provides wonderful texture to the story as the narrator switches back and forth between years, and with varying degrees of mental stability.
As a character, Santini is brutal as he examines how he stumbled through adolescence while experimenting with philosophy, love and sex, and yes, lots of drugs. Santini himself doesn't know if he's even recounting the truth anymore. He would be the first to tell you, though, that the best lies make the greatest stories.
(This review first appeared in the San Francisco/Sacramento Book Reviews.)
Brooklyn Dreams is Santini's story; he narrates the events of his life as he reflects backwards on his senior year of high school, 1970-1971. Part Stand by Me, part Basketball Diaries, the tale utilizes the physical setting (Brooklyn, of course) and the drug culture of the time period as a backdrop for personal exploration. It is no coincidence that the main character is named Vincent but is called Carl in parts of the story, for this is really about Santini's search for himself, trying to pin down his identity. At the same time, he is trying to find the missing piece to the puzzle, the answers to the big questions in regards to love, family, death and the nature of God.
Brooklyn Dreams was an experiment when it was first released. Back in 1994 DC was just beginning to get its Paradox imprint off the ground. In those early days, Vertigo was still a place where you ran into superheroes on occasion, albeit heroes on the edge, and DC felt they needed to have a place where they could publish works completely outside of their universe, works that were for mature readers. I don't mean mature in the sense of violence and T&A but instead thought-provoking and meaningful. Paradox was that mature place, and Brooklyn Dreams was their flagship book.
Eventually the line failed, just shortly after the release of the now-famous Road to Perdition, but of all the works they released in their short time of publication, Brooklyn Dreams is the stand-out. Similar to Road to Perdition, it emulated manga in its design, being published in digest size and complete black and white. However, unlike that work, Brooklyn Dreams was released in four parts; each part had ninety-six pages and sold for 4.95 a piece. Just collected together in one volume and re-released for the first time back in mid-April, the book will now cost you 12.95, a considerable amount less than it would have almost ten years ago.
The writer of this graphic novel, J.M. DeMatteis, is a bit of a cipher. He is regularly known for writing titles in a vein that is a bit out there. His most recent works include the most recent Spectre series and the Seth Fisher-illustrated one-shot Green Lantern: Willworld, but he has also written some fairly standard superhero fare for Marvel with Spiderman and Captain America. He has written Moonshadow, Seekers into the Mystery and various other Vertigo titles, while at the same time he worked as co-writer with Keith Giffen of the madcap Justice League of the late '80s.
Obviously the versatility of DeMatteis is not in question, but had it been, Brooklyn Dreams would have solidified his reputation as a man capable of holding his own in any genre. Here he casts aside the conventions of fantasy and the superhero to set his story in a place that is at times much more absurd-the real world. The novel is populated with characters so real that you cannot believe they're complete fictions. It has a style that is so real you believe it must be thinly veiled autobiography, even if it's not. And I have no doubt that it isn't, that the author's life was nothing like the main character's. But the skill with which he weaves this tale makes you believe this was his life.
Honestly he at times even makes you believe it was YOUR life, that he's somehow telling your story. The work draws you in so much by fully painting a rounded picture of its setting that you feel as if you lived in Brooklyn circa the early 1970s, even if you're really from a small town in southern Illinois. And the characters react to one another in such a way that their emotional issues seem to reflect your own
Admittedly, the narrative itself is meandering and sometimes elusive. As I mentioned, the main character narrates his own story, and Santini has a tendency to ramble. He will sometimes interrupt his own story to go off on a tangent, even going so far as to tell asides within asides. But this is a story that the narrator admits is comprised of imperfect memories, so digressions seem only natural. Plus these departures allow him to take the long way towards his destination, and much of this book's beauty is in that journey, in the small character bits we might not get in other works that are more focused on a goal.
The book too leaves many questions unanswered, as characters who seemed important in the beginning float into the background and are gone. For example, in the final section of the novel, the Santini family seems to almost completely fade away. But in that way it IS like life, how in our youth the influences on us are constantly changing, how you grow apart from family, from your best friend, from yourself even.
By the end, despite some clunkiness in regards to the plot, Brooklyn Dreams will win you over through the atmosphere of sincerity it creates and the sheer humanity of the characters who populate its world. Be it fiction or fact, this story is one of truth, and of the search for truth we all go through as we grow up.