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Shortcomings Hardcover – October 2, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Significant Seven, November 2007: Adrian Tomine draws his mid-twenties slackers with an impeccable, exact line for every slumpy gesture and cultivated rumple. In Shortcomings, this ex-wunderkind tackles a book-length comic for the first time after three collections of stories, and his maturity shows not so much in the ages of his characters, who are still slackly wandering, dropping out of grad school or managing a movie theater, but in his calm and masterful handling of his story, in which vividly individual characters wander through the maze of imposed and self-generated stereotypes of Asian and American identities (the title is a wry allusion to one of the most enduring of those assumptions). Never has that old commonplace that the personal is the political seemed more paralyzing, and more true. --Tom Nissley

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. SignatureReviewed by Junot DíazTomine's lacerating falling-out-of-love story is an irresistible gem of a graphic novel. Shortcomingsis set primarily in an almost otherworldly San Francisco Bay Area; its antihero, Ben Tanaka, is not your average comic book protagonist: he's crabby, negative, self-absorbed, über-critical, slack-a-riffic and for someone who is strenuously race-blind, has a pernicious hankering for whitegirls. His girlfriend Miko (alas and tragically) is an Asian-American community activist of the moderate variety. Ben is the sort of cat who walks into a Korean wedding and says, Man, look at all these Asians, while Miko programs Asian-American independent films and both are equally skilled in the underhanded art of fighting without fighting. As you might imagine, their relationship is in full decay. In Tomine's apt hands, Tanaka's heartbreaking descent into awareness is reading as good as you'll find anywhere. What a relief to find such unprecious intelligent dynamic young people of color wrestling with real issues that they can neither escape nor hope completely to understand.Tomine's no dummy: he keeps the issues secondary to his characters' messy humanity and gains incredible thematic resonance from this subordination. Tomine's dialogue is hilarious (he makes Seth Rogan seem a little forced), his secondary characters knockouts (Ben's Korean-American only friend Alice steals every scene she's in, and the Korean wedding they attend together as pretend-partners is a study in the even blending of tragedy and farce), and his dramatic instincts second-to-none. Besides orchestrating a gripping kick-ass story with people who feel like you've had the pleasure/misfortune of rooming with, Tomine does something far more valuable: almost incidentally and without visible effort (for such is the strength of a true artist) he explodes the tottering myth that love is blind and from its million phony fragments assembles a compelling meditation on the role of race in the romantic economy, dramatizing with evil clarity how we are both utterly blind and cannily hyperaware of the immense invisible power race exerts in shaping what we call desire. And that moment at the end when the whiteboy squares up against Ben, kung-fu style: I couldn't decide whether to fold over in laughter or to hug Ben or both. Tomine accomplishes in one panel of this graphic novel what so many writers have failed to do in entire books. In crisp spare lines, he captures in all its excruciating, disappointing absurdity a single moment and makes from it our world. (Oct.)Junot Díaz's first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, has just been published by Riverhead.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 104 pages
  • Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly; 1st edition (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1897299168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1897299166
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #401,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Written in 3 "chapters," which are more like 3 film Acts, Shortcomings tells the tale of cynical, lust-soaked Ben Tanaka, a 30-year-old movie house manager in Berkeley. Even though his girlfriend Miko is a gorgeous Japanese cultural activist with sensitivity and intelligence, Ben's wandering eye for Anglo girls and his surly attitude cause friction in his relationship with disastrous consequences. Ben finds solace in his only friend, Alice, a spunky, sharp lesbian who attends Mills College. In this context, Shortcomings explores with sadness and hilarity sexual and racial stereotypes and the painful search for an authentic identity. The characters are painfully realistic, beset by misguided desires, raging egos, and intense selfishness. But Tomine's brilliance as an artist is to give his characters complexity, believability, and, yes, our sympathy. I was sad after I finished the book in 90 minutes of reading because I loved the characters and wanted to spend more time with them and found myself fantasizing a long-running TV show about them or a series of more graphic novels so I could follow their lives in more depth. Such is the pang this great book left me.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved Tomine's early collections, 32 Stories and Sleepwalk, but his last one (Summer Blonde) was a bit of a disappointment, feeling like a rehash of earlier material. This latest book collects issues 9-11 of Optic Nerve into a single narrative arc following a single protagonist. Despite this move from short story to novella-length, Tomine largely fails to take advantage of the space afforded to move into new thematic territory.

His work has always focused on loneliness, and yet again the main character is a socially awkward semi-hipster who tends to alienate people. Ben Tanaka is a 30-year-old manager of an art house cinema in Berkeley (presumably the UC Theater, which like the one Ben manages, was forced to close to due seismic retrofitting regulations), living with his beautiful Japanese-American girlfriend Miko. The story follows Ben's dying relationship with Miko and subsequent rebound attempts with various cute Anglo girls. But Ben is so plagued by insecurity and bitter snobbishness, and is so grumpy and cynical that it becomes increasingly hard as the book progresses to understand what any woman would see in him.

The one new theme Tomine introduces to his work is the struggle to define identity and identity politics among Asian-Americans. Ben, Miko, and even Ben's moxie-laden Korean-American lesbian pal Alice (who tend to steal any scene she's in), all grapple with various stereotypes and self-imposed expectations.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm probably not an objective reviewer. I'm a white woman married to an Asian man, and we lived in the Bay Area for many years, so the subject matter was a bit close to the bone for me. At several points in the novel, I felt as though someone had been eavesdropping on my conversations. Tomine also does a great job of conveying subtle emotions through facial expressions. I loved it, and not just for the local references and jokes about Asian identity politics.
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Wow, this is just story telling at its finest. Ever watch an embarrassing moment in slow motion? That was the pace of the book. The main character's frustrations on society and his views of himself is overwhelmingly college-like. There are some very funny moments in the book. Adrian does a good job addressing some stereotypes but does not openly dispel any of it. I felt that he kind of spells it out for the reader but it is up to the reader to believe them or not and that might be worth more than the story itself. I found myself questioning on how much I really know about other cultures and let alone other cultures that have one or two generations in America. I hope that Adrian Tomine continues the main character in other books.
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I've read this every couple of years since it was published and it's remarkable to me how much there is so much to see in this slight volume. My sympathies tend to rearrange on each reading -- Ben is the type of character that makes me veer between wanting to slap him and hug him in the space of a page or two. Tomine has such a knack at portraying awkward moments, there are a couple of scenes in here that feel so real it is almost as if they happened to me.

One of my favorite realist graphic novels -- the entire thing just feels drawn from life.
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All of Adrian's work is worth checking out. Yet, Shortcomings was a story that made me think about who I am more than any of Tomine's other works; nonetheless, the story and characters are as real as the air we breath. If you can't enjoy this work of art you may have to seek professional help. Enjoy Short Comings and all other work by Adrian Tomine--check out other Optic Nerve writings.
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Format: Paperback
I like graphic novels, but they have a huge drawback -- they are over too qucikly. No matter how think they are, you can just speed through the pages and then you're at the end and it feels premature. You might not have really connected with the characters, just moved at speed from frame to frame. Then you're done, and you have options. You can read it again; you can put it on the shelf.

The problem is that graphic novels have a lot of work that go into them, and a lot of them are awesome but they have that problem. And then you come across one that is funny and you laugh out loud and it's only 108 pages long. It's a nibble for a main course that never comes. You want more -- but maybe not. The style is nice, the pictures are clean, the observations about the various cultures are fresh and new -- but the main character is .... something else. He seems unhappy with himself, and his life, but stuck in a world that exists only to make him bitter. He has a girl, and a job, but a wandering eye -- across cultures and races. He consummates his desires, but is left no happier. In the end, he's still the same unhappy guy, with the same shortcomings.
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