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Shortcomings Hardcover – October 2, 2007
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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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One of my favorite realist graphic novels -- the entire thing just feels drawn from life.
For me, as an SF East Bay local, the book has a special charm, as Ben frequents numerous Berkeley hot spots -- lunch and a stroll through the trendy Rockridge shopping district, the hustle and bustle of the crowded, grimy foodcourt on Durant Avenue, a conversation in the magazine atrium of Telegraph Avenue's legendary Cody's Books (now sadly closed) and a glimpse at the death of the venerable UC Theater, once Berkeley's greatest repertory movie house. (Ben's character is a manager at the UC Theater, and has to lay off his entire staff when the theater is hit by "temporary" seismic retrofits, which actually happened to the UC many years ago. The cost of the retrofits was too high for the struggling Landmark chain, and they sold the property to some developers who reneged on their promise to fix the theater up and reopen it under new management. The death of this cultural landmark was a great blow to the local community, and it's nice to see the UC immortalized here in Tomine's work. All that's missing is having Ben get a haircut at Frank the Barber's place, just down the street, and the picture would have been perfect.)
Even if you're not from Berkeley or the Bay Area there's plenty to enjoy about this book, including its grim assessment of a doomed relationship, and its frank, scathingly un-PC discussions about race and identity for young Asian-American twenty-something hipsters. All in all, a fine work - I'm definitely looking forward to Tomine's next opus! (Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain book reviews)
Tomine has recreated a new and strange social dilemma of modern America.
He accurately explains (through his characters) the grandiose ideas that distract two intelligent Asian Americans from the simpler and immediate discomfort they have with their identity, roles within their families and their personal relationships.
My favorite aspect of the main character, Ben Tanaka, is he can't see how he causes his own problems. His jealousy, insecurity, and intellectual snobbery fuel his mean and cynical behavior toward his girlfriend.
And the best part is, he's not even consciously aware of what he's doing!
I like this because it is very accurate recreation of real life.
And as the reader, we can objectively watch it unfold in front of us. You can see exactly where Ben Tanaka turns from kind boyfriend into a cynical brat. And he acts like a brat by his own choosing.
This is a phenomenon all human beings share. Not realizing how their own behavior and attitudes are the cause of their life's problems. And the ideas of their era (in this case, identity and race in America) is a superficial lense through which many people try to understand their own suffering.
Tomine has accurately described the very human conflict of emotions and ideals.