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Building Stories (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Hardcover – October 2, 2012
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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*Starred Review* Ware has been consistently pushing the boundaries for what the comics format can look like and accomplish as a storytelling medium. Here he does away with the book format—a thing between two covers that has a story that begins and ends—entirely in favor of a huge box containing 14 differently sized, formatted, and bound pieces: books, pamphlets, broadsheets, scraps, and even a unfoldable board that would be at home in a Monopoly box. The pieces, some previously published in various places and others new for this set, swarm around a Chicago three-flat occupied by an elderly landlady, a spiteful married couple, and a lonely amputee (there’s also a bee bumbling around in a rare display of levity). The emotional tenor remains as soul-crushing and painfully insightful as any of Ware’s work, but it’s really insufficient to talk about what happens in anything he does. It’s all about the grind and folly of everyday life but presented in an exhilarating fashion, each composition an obsessively perfect alignment of line, shape, color, and perspective. More than anything, though, this graphic novel (if it can even be called that) mimics the kaleidoscopic nature of memory itself—fleeting, contradictory, anchored to a few significant moments, and a heavier burden by the day. In terms of pure artistic innovation, Ware is in a stratosphere all his own. --Ian Chipman
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What originally captivated me about Ware's work were his almost obsessive attention to detail, beautiful and precise artwork that didn't look too 'cartoonish' (whatever that means), and the digressions from the main storyline (frequently in the form of cut-outs and paper dolls, which from what I understand are actually accurate and do function as described--such as the stereoscope and 'library' bookshelf; though, I could never, ever bring myself to cut up a book, let alone one of Ware's). I can't say that I have a great grasp of Ware's work in the context of other graphic novels, as I have never been a particularly avid reader of the genre; however, this attests to the ability of Ware's work to cross these well-established (and often dismissed) boundaries. To simply call Building Stories a graphic novel, a book, a novel, a comic, or really any one genre would be a great injustice that ignores what I believe a currently unparalleled form. A reader does not have to consider him or herself a fan of any of a particular genre to enjoy Building Stories; it is the story of memory, loss, trauma, and how these manifest themselves in everyday life that should draw readers into its pages. I would even say that this stands up to any work of literature, regardless of form or genre.
It's first striking how large the box is. Immediately, it gave me an impression of its heft (both in weight and in accomplishment). Opening it is truly like being granted a secret passage into the minds and memories of the characters, and the non-linear format of the various 'pieces' mimics how both we and the characters access those memories. The first piece I read was a hardcover book that instantly took me back to my childhood, as it's reminiscent of the pressed-cardboard children's books that had a gold spine, and an inside cover with ornate illustrations of the publisher's popular characters with a space to write your name. I can't remember the publisher, but I know I had many books like this. This is exactly what makes Ware and Building Stories so outstanding: their ability to skillfully draw out an emotion from the reader that parallels the storyline. It does not feel like a cheap ploy of meta-fiction, which can be a danger of 'postmodern' fiction, but that the details are all so understated and do not scream, 'hey, look at me! Aren't I so clever?' helps bring a level of sincerity and genuine connection to the whole experience. With something that could easily wander into pretension, it never seems to cross that line (however, I now must admit it seems near impossible to write a review on it without taking on this air of pretension that Ware successfully avoids, haha).
I spent several years living in Chicago, so the building and landscapes are excitingly familiar--I have a special, personal attachment to the building of Building Stories that I relish while reading. But really, it doesn't matter where I've lived; as long as I (or any reader) have lived a life with love, loss, regret, loneliness and varying degrees of human interaction, Building Stories will be a work that resonates in and even echoes the hopes, dreams, fears, and banality of a life at once both extraordinary and mundane.
There are fourteen distinct "pieces" in the collection - books, pamphlets, comics, etc. Amazon's description notes there are 260 pages in total. Be sure to look at the group of six photos near the middle of the Amazon product page to get a feel for the items that are included, although the photos do not do this work justice. The pieces can be read in any order, and in fact, that randomness will impact every reader uniquely.
"Building Stories" examines the lives of four people (and one bee!) living in a three-level Chicago apartment building. The stories flash back and forth in time, and the primary focus is on a single female tenant. The title can be taken quite literally, as in life stories that occur in a building. Of course, a more apt interpretation is the idea that people are "built" by a series of sometimes seemingly mundane (or not so mundane) events, as captured in this collection.
I read today that Ware spent ten years working on "Building Stories." I'm not surprised, as his dedication and passion shine through on every beautiful page.