Kill My Mother
This graphic novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Feiffer is a gender-bending take on 1930s-40s noir. In 1933, teen-aged bad apple Annie tortures her admirer, Artie, shoplifts, and wants her mother dead. Said mother, Elsie, works for an alcohol-soaked private eye she hopes will solve her husband’s murder. Throw in mysterious blonds, nightclubs, boxers, and goons, and you’ve got several mainstays of the genre. Fast forward to 1943, the war is in full swing, Annie is grown (but no more mature), Artie fights in the South Pacific, Elsie is in Hollywood, and all comes to a denouement when the main characters participate in a USO tour.
A graphic novel invites scrutiny for both its writing and illustrations; in this case, the latter are distracted, hasty-looking black/white/shades-of-grey constructions. The color palette (or lack thereof) is appropriate, but the style seems wrong – it gives a sense of frenzied energy and slapdash execution, rather than the polish of noir cinematography. Faces are so indistinct and similar, especially for females, that it can cause confusion as to which character is actually in frame. The prose is likewise unrefined. Unlike the sardonic wit and biting dialogue of a Chandler or Cain work (both of whom are mentioned in the dedication), this novel’s prose has little to recommend it. Advance praise (of which there is plenty from Art Spiegelman, Neil Gaiman, et al.) touts the novel’s “humor.” Your mileage may vary, but this reviewer could find little evidence of it. The storyline contains surprise twists and character about-faces that beggar belief. The author mentions his research into the period (“googling World War II uniforms and what all”), and perhaps this is the major flaw from a historicity standpoint: the novel attempts to recreate noir, but has missed the correct feel for the period and genre. As an art work, Kill My Mother is worth a look; as a noir novel… it leaves much to be desired.