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Heads Or Tails Paperback – December 16, 2014
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*Starred Review* Most of these stories are concerned with alternatives—overlapping realities, different explanations of a single phenomenon, evolving contradictions. A fancily dressed gent bids “Welcome to My Kingdom,” waving at all the space around him; on each successive page, as he rants about the marvels in that space, the border framing him thickens until he’s compressed into an hourglass abstraction of himself. The protagonist of “Wishy Washy” revels in his decisiveness, but after driving into a deer as implacable as he is, he becomes utterly diffident, only to meet with another catastrophe. “The Thing about Madeleine” is a doppelganger tale in which the hard-drinking heroine tries to confront her double and succeeds, only to be driven out of town and into a new life. In “The Carnival,” the collection’s longest, most dramatic entry, Madeleine’s male counterpart flees town like her but returns, though with a bit of where he’s been, fortunately for him. Two more long stories and a clutch of shorter ones and single-pagers fill out the volume. As a graphic artist, Carré carries forward the design tradition that stems from the gossamer surrealism of Cocteau; as a verbal artist, she may be the most successful prose poet going. Yet her work most piquantly recalls the great avant-garde narrative films, from Menilmontant (1926) to The Saddest Music in the World (2003). Her Wanda Gág–meets–Gene Deitch drawing style and new-weirdness literary bent make her work acutely interesting to both read and scrutinize. --Ray Olson
...[A] coherent, witty volume [The] state of being betwist, between and sometimes bereft clearly fascinates Carre and powers her sometimes opaque stories that demand an attentive reader who's ready to ask the same kind of questions that she does. --Rob Clough"
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Heads or Tails by Lilli Carré is an odd collection of short stories that visually strike a light, whimsical tone but are deceptively dark, even bordering on gothic. There is a streak of breathy melancholy in the surreal snippets created by Carré that reminded me of something from a Marc Chagall painting.
Dreams are often thought of as illogical but despite their bizarre topsy-turvyness, there's always an emotional rationale, right? Dream logic. Lilli Carré's stories blur that line between the mundane of waking life and the weird of some alternate reality of that waking life. In "Wishy Washy," a smug art critic who judges flower arrangements for a living wakes up one day and finds he has lost his ability to judge. That one was profound. In "The Thing About Madeleine," a woman encounters her double sleeping in her bed. She lets this other woman take over her life and enjoys watching a 'better' version of herself: “… like watching a movie with the sound turned low.” In "The Flip," a woman tosses a coin…and waits and waits. When the coin never reappears, she is stuck, frozen in her decision-making. The most complex story in the collection is "The Carnival," told in 32 pages, about a man (kind of like the woman in the doppelganger story) who goes through life feeling dull and miserable, and then suddenly wakes up in a kind of alternate world--he is awakened. "The Carnival" ends with ambiguity that makes sense on some dream logic level.
Carré's artwork is quite elegant, if quirky and twee. But what makes it special is how each panel is suffused with those sly, surreal twists and subconscious desires. Kinda cool, kinda creepy. It's creepy for the outward fact that it's not trying to be creepy. It's unsettling for its utter nonchalance. At one point a character happens to start levitating into the air. She says, "These hot winds…what a bother. I suppose I could give in just for a minute or two...." As one critic on NPR put it: "The whole collection has the feel of a dream in which remembering how to fly is as simple as forgetting that you can't."
If you're a reader that likes the kind of humor you might associate with a Wes Anderson movie, maybe that movie, Juno, then is probably the kind of graphic novel you should be reading. I caught myself laughing out loud. There is a part in a comic featured inside this book that describes another book's illustrations as, "Sweetly awkward", that's how I'd describe this book. The authors absurd imagination liberates us from our own automatic responses that say, "...no, don't think that, that's ridiculous, that's illogical". You end up just sort of rolling with it and being brought back to the creative thinking of childhood and dreams and that's why this book is so great!