Created by: Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover
Published by: Top Shelf
ISBN: 1603090800 (Amazon)
I love a good, challenging novel (or graphic novel) as much as the next guy. Maybe even more. I’ve spent my fair share plumbing the depths of Kafka on the Shore, The Unconsoled, Savage Detectives, and Duncan the Wonder Dog. Those books are treasured to me and I’ll always remember to think of them fondly. There’s a certain invigouration that occurs when one puzzles through a tough work and comes out the other end with something that resembles a solution—or even just a partial solution. There is life to be found in thoughtful consideration of things that are quite beyond our ken. But sometimes we just want to play.
Gingerbread Girl is exactly that: play. It’s light and uncomplicated. It’s rambunctious and pleasant. It’s got whimsy and verve and spark and a whole bucketload of other lighthearted descriptive nouns. It zips about and won’t leave you exhausted from thinking too hard. It’s like a night out dancing: sure there’s going to be some interpersonal drama but—hot damn!—there’s going to be some interpersonal drama!
Gingerbread Girl is about what people—in this case, a particular young woman named Annah—are like. The 110-page graphic novella follows her over the course of a single night’s date. Annah has a number of traits that crop up, either endearing her to or alienating her from her companion for the evening as they visit art galleries and rooftops. The book’s exploration of these parts of Annah’s personality form the story’s meat, but it’s the manner by which they are explored that makes the book as fun as it is.
Creators Tobin and Coover take a unique tack with the story’s narration—one that I hesitate to reveal simply because I found great joy in experiencing it for myself. So I guess if you don’t want this one small thing spoiled, just skip to the next paragraph. From the start there’s a lot of fourth-wall–breaking, with Annah busting in to tell us exactly why the date she arranged for the night’s engagement is going to be such a mystery. But Annah is not our narrator—at least not our only narrator. Over the course of the book, Annah’s evening is excerpted to us by friends, associates, strangers, and even passing animals. Each has a unique insight into either the current situation or into Annah’s own history and psychological make-up. It’s an inventive device and I found it added immeasurably to the flavour of the book.
The book’s title comes from a little story involving Annah’s cortical homunculus. The homunculus is a visual representation of the sensory inputs as they are located in the brain. It’s a bit complicated, but the short of it is that there is a sort of geographical map of the body* laid across the topography of the brain. And Annah says that hers was skimmed off by her mad scientist father when she was a child. Annah calls this slice of herself, the Gingerbread Girl (Ginger for short). That cross-section of cortical homunculus was then grown into a fully functional girl through the magic of science. Or the magic of magic? Or maybe… luck? Whichever the case, Annah has a twin holding access to the depth of her sense perception and that twin has gone missing. And that sad fact is making it hard for Annah to connect with people in any meaningful way.
Or is it? Yes, Annah is a tease and suffers from certain debilitations that threaten to kneecap her relationships turn after turn. But is the problem really something as sci-fi as a rogue homunculus or is the problem more in the realm of traditional psy-fi?** That’s the central question that Gingerbread Girl explores throughout its twisting travelogue of Annah’s life. If we were to judge truth on the basis of Life of Pi's “better story” criterion, then Annah’s account of her missing sister Ginger would absolutely be the truth. Even if she’s fabricating, Annah’s managed to craft a version of reality that’s much more enticing than any more rational explanation for The Way She Is. Still, her friends aren’t sold and it’s through their skepticism that we’re able piece together our version of the truth.
All that sounds pretty thought-provoking and heady but Tobin and Coover take the edge off right quick by infusing their work with a tangible, earthy sense of humour. Gingerbread Girl is funny and warm-hearted. It’s a little bit romantic but a lot bit just plain human. It’s an enjoyable little book and one of the better releases of the year.
* So really, that’s probably better termed a somagraphical map. But let’s not let that get between our friendship.
** That was awful, wasn’t it? You can tell me. I won’t hold it against you for long.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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