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Monday, June 14, 2004

Dioramas, a love story 

Dioramas, by Mark Ricketts and Dario Brizuela

There's been some talk lately of "whose fault is it if a reader doesn't like a work? The authors or the readers?" It all vaguely reminds me of arguements we'd get into at school about where meaning in a text lies: does the author create it, does a reader bring it to the text, or is it somehow coded into the text itself, independant of both author and reader? Being the ecleticist of the class of 1998 I usually argued that it was the mix of what an author intended, the cultural biases the author didn't intend, and the reader's concious examination of the text informed by their cultural bias. So basically, everyone was right in a way, except for the people who subscribed to the Stanley Fish school of literary analysis. At which point I was generally denounced as a traitor to the cause and forced to buy the next round.

Which brings me, indirectly, to this book. I've been thinking of picking it up for awhile, since the stylized, almost cartoony art appealed to me. I was curious as to how the disconnect between the style of the art and the tone of the story would work. And I have no complaints about the art. It's inviting, though perhaps a little too clean and friendly for the story at hand. The only real weakness I spotted was that all the women are the same, just wearing different wigs. For example, in one scene the main character receives a call about a book for her having arrived at a bookstore. The next scene is two women robbing the bookstore. But we don't realize that the woman wearing a cheap disguise isn't the first women until she...takes off her wig. It's remeotely possible that this was a deliberate stylistic choice given some of the developments of the story, but it's a common enough weakness in comics artists that I'm not prepared to give Brizuela the benefit of the doubt.

Now as for the story...well...maybe it's my fault. Charlotte Rampling is a retired cop stalked by an escaped serial killer. Maybe. There are so many disjointed flash-backs and dream sequences and characters who may or may not have multiple personalities it's hard to be sure what's real and what's not. In the hands of a more capable writer that would be fine. But Ricketts fails to provide a base-line "reality" for the story for us to measure the flash-backs and dream sequences and what nots by. I'm still not certain if the last scene in the book is meant to be a flash-back to the killer pretending to be insane or Charlotte now in therapy and developed psychosis of her own. And if it is Charlotte in the end, the thought occurs that everything that has preceded that scene was Charlotte's delusion all along. Again, this is not helped by the fact that all the women look alike and I can't tell if that psychiatrist at the end is meant to be the same one that was apparently killed earlier in the novel or not.

And that isn't to mention the plot-holes. To cite one, several pages are devoted to Christian missionaries discovering a crime-scene. But they apparently are never dispatched by the killer or report their finding to the police. The police instead discover the scene through an improbable clue. So why was the scene with the missionaries included at all? The gaps in logic and casuality make for a very frustrating read, and ultimatley unsatisfying. Complex and ambiguous storytelling is all well and good, but the mystery genre tends to be very unforgiving of those sorts of things when they aren't done well.


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