Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 86

Building Stories

by Chris Ware
Genre notes: story of a life
260 pages
ISBN: 0375424334 (Amazon)

It’s entirely possible/likely that no one will have experienced the same story as I did when I read it or you will when you read it. The total possible number of different ways to approach Building Stories is 87,178,219,200 (or more than 87 billion, or 12 times the population of the earth).

Building Stories is a box. A box containing fourteen individual pieces of comics media of different sizes and dimensions. Fourteen stories, some hardbound, some in the form of pamphlets, some the size of newspapers (for those who remember newspapers). One was an 11"x16” folding screen, like a boardgame board. Another two were single pieces of quad-folded paper (like travel brochures), about as tall as the width of a business card but maybe seven inches in length. There is no prescribed, proscribed, or recommended order for reading these fourteen stories.

Ware’s protagonist (so much as there is one) is more like a full-orbed person and experiences both highs and lows. As well, her thought-life is robust. While she definitely does wallow occasionally in self-pity and a panoply of woe-is-me scenarios, she’s also thoughtful about social issues and the ethics of trivial actions. There’s even fleeting interest in questions of philosophy and theology. She is a woman built of hopes, recriminations, desires, disgusts, fears, joys, and a waxing and waning of drive. Much like any of us.

While Building Stories may not function so much as a traditional novel—offering a common Western narrative structure of beginning, middle, end—it does what it does very well. There is no overall build of tension, no climax, no denouement—but there was also never any pretension to such things. Beyond the impossibility of discovering The Correct Order in which to read Ware’s creation, his intention is less about unveiling a plot as it is about discovering a life lived. This is the life of the Woman, and by the end of it you will know her as well as you know many of your friends. She is undressed, not for your approval so much as for your empathy. This could be the closest many of us will come to walking in another’s shoes.

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