This was supposed to post on July 21, believe it or not, but that morning before work, I gave it one final skim and decided it wasn't right. I made a couple of notes and cancelled the post. And then promptly forgot about it. I've tried a couple of times since then to address the notes, but sadly, they were too note-ish and not enough worked out to really help me remember what I wanted to address. So...I've had to settle for this. The book is better than my post (they usually are, in case you haven't noticed)
Only you can decide where your home is. And every good story is about finding your way there.
I want to invoke The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, or one of the Grossmans, or Ernest Cline -- but who isn't invoking them when it comes to this book? So consider them invoked, I've done my duty, and now I'm going to avoid them. Proehl's book about people attending a series of Comic Conventions will attract those are into "Geek Culture," but it's not really targeted toward them (us). The book is set in the world of Comics and SF, but that's it -- it's just where this novel about mothers and sons, artists of sundry stripes finding their place in the world, and a boy learning about story happens to take place.
Val, an actress on a now-cancelled show that's sort of X-Files mixed with Fringe (and how many of you want to watch that show, right now?) is spending a few weeks of the summer going from Comic COn to Comic Con on a cross-country trip with her son, Alex. She's not an unemployed actor, she's busy off-Broadway, but isn't flush, so the Cons are paying their way to L.A., where a major shakeup in their family structure is going to take place. As they move West, we travel through time to trace Val's relationship with Alex's father, up to the devastating events that led to her moving to New York with her son and iwthout her husband. Val is having a hard time wrapping her head around the fans attending the Cons and what they expect from her -- but she's getting it.
Alex is almost too perfect -- which is a pretty big danger when it comes to writing kids, they're either too precious, too precocious, too stupid, too . . . well, you get the idea. Alex is clever, intuitive, and sensitive. He's got a great imagination, and just needs a little direction as a creative-type. (N.B.: This is one of those paragraphs I needed to develop better and failed to, for those of you keeping score at home.) He's the hinge that all this stuff hangs on -- as much as this is a story about Val (more than anything else), without Alex it just doesn't happen. Entire posts/articles/essays could and should be written about Alex -- but they'll have to be done by people better than me. He's not entirely realistic, but he's a great character.
Gail is an up-and-coming comic writer, who may have found her level in the industry (lower than anyone wants). She has a couple of good friends who are rooting for her. While she travels form con to con, she wrestles with her own personal demons and history and dos what she can to help others with theirs. Her new friendship with Val is one of those things that will reward them both.
Brett is an artist/co-writer of an indie comic with his long-time-friend. The two aren't having the best time working together anymore, each getting distracted with their own projects. From future professional gigs to helping Alex out with his story.
Alex's "Idea Man" and the traveling troupe of female cosplayers are deserving of far more attention and analysis than I can provide -- so let me just say that they're all fun to read, thought-provoking and ignored at the reader's loss.
Val didn't know the name, but she knew there was a lot of excitement around it. It's something she likes quite a bit about this little world: the capability of those within it to get deeply and sincerely excited about things. She wonders how they fare in the real world, where excitement is poorly valued, and she tries to think of things she has been excited about. There are so few.
If "the capability . . . to get deeply and sincerely excited about things" isn't one of the best descriptions of contemporary Geeks, I don't know what is.
There are a handful of goodies for those who are into Comics, SF and whatnot -- the Doctor Who analog is great, ditto for the Alan Moore and Green Lantern analgos. There are some that are more subtle, too. I think I got most of them, but I'm sure I missed a few.
The writing is strong -- although Proehl has a couple of ticks I could do without. For example, I'm not sure how many times he said something like, "Before she got her start in comics, Gail ran . . . " and then talked about her blog. Once would've been enough with that (although it does fit in nicely with the origin-story thing he has going on, and maybe that's the point). I don't know that you could call this "light" at any time, but there is an optimism (mostly) throughout -- but an optimism tinged with realism.
At the end of the day, this was a very compelling tale, full of characters that you wanted to spend time with (more time with, actually). Proehl might give one or two storylines a very "happily ever after" feel, but some of them are left to the reader to conclude on their own. I liked that. Nicely written, compelling characters in a setting that is very relatable -- how can I not love this?