May 1, 2023

Review: Why Don't You Love Me?

Why Don't You Love Me? Why Don't You Love Me? by Paul B. Rainey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not the sort of graphic novel I've been reading lately. The art is black and white, and it's presented in more of a newspaper (or possibly web comic) format, a bit more episodic in feel instead of a single overarching story. And yet the single overarching story is just what it contains. The genius of the writer is that his story sneaks up on you gradually, until the defining plot twist halfway through that makes you look back on the first panels in an entirely different way.

Still, there is more than enough weirdness in the beginning to keep the reader's attention, and the characters carried me past the simplicity of the art. Our protagonists are Mark and Claire Hopkins and their children Sally and Charley (although Mark keeps calling his son "Tommy," the first tipoff that something is off kilter). Claire is suffering from what appears to be clinical depression--at the beginning, she sits around the house all day, refusing to go outside, demanding Mark and/or one of the kids go every day to fetch her wine and cigarettes and asking the kids to bring her food. Mark has taken off work to help, and in fact is rather reluctant to return to the office, as he insists he should have been a barber instead of a website manager (the second hint that something is wrong). The first half of the story is taken up with this domestic drama, with Mark and Claire clashing over her illness, his job, and the kids. In fact, the reader (or at least this reader) starts to question the whole point of this story.....until the mid-book plot twist hits and everything changes.

From there, the story tackles issues of identity, free will, family ties, the choices we make and the roads not taken. Everything about our characters and their lives is retextualized with this new information. It's masterfully done, and the ending is at the same time hopeful and more than a little depressing--because you realize what has happened to Mark and Claire twice already is probably going to keep happening again and again.

I haven't read another graphic novel quite like it. The only reason I didn't give this five stars is because the art isn't that great. (I mean, would it have killed the author to include a few splashes of color?) But the characters and story were more than enough to carry me along. This is about as far from the Marvel and DC universe that a graphic novel can get, and that is a good thing. I don't think the big comics imprints would have taken a chance on a subversive, genre-bending story like this, and I'm very glad it's in the world.

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