Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Exit Wounds

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Exit Wounds (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008)

Here's a story about life in contemporary Israel that came wrapped in "book of the year" blurbs and hype and breathless praise from many writers whom I trust. It turned out to be an enormous letdown. Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds spent a week on the review stack in limbo before I decided to return it to my reading pile and give it another chance, certain that I missed something. A reread didn't persuade me that I missed anything, or, if you like, that there was anything to miss.

Exit Wounds is the story of a cab driver who is told that an unidentified body in a recent terrorist attack might have been his estranged father, who has been missing since the bombing. Alternately, it's the story of a young woman who concludes that her secret, older lover must have died in an explosion and searches out his estranged son to have a DNA match done.

It sounds like something gripping and heartrending, but it feels like Modan couldn't find any drama from what could have been a plot without a single complication, so she has to concoct a book's worth of artifice in order to keep the duo from finding closure. At one point, she throws in the unbelievable obstacle of a gravedigger's strike, for pity's sake, to keep a DNA test from going through. Yet I can't remember whether that comes before or after she spends about three pages having a possible witness demand a bribe before he will tell them whether he might have seen Koby's father that day. It's the depth of Koby's estrangement which provides the most frustrating obstacle, though. It doesn't matter how long Koby's father has been dead to him, since the book's not going to progress until he gets over it.

The most obnoxious obstacles, however, are the two protagonists themselves. Koby and Nuni are simply unlikeable, aggravating, bad-tempered jerks. Nuni, depicted in the dialogue as rather plain but drawn with the same lumpy, thin-lined appearance as all the other characters, is thoughtless and offensive and Koby is a surly, judgmental bore who does not have a single positive relationship with anybody, from co-workers to family. If only these two could just get along, the narrative suggests, then they could find closure. Yet the characters are simply so unpleasant that I simply could not care less whether they ever do, making the hackneyed, literal "leap of faith" conclusion one which meant nothing. Not recommended. Avoid.

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