A Single Match

March 21, 2012

Oji Suzuki – Drawn & Quarterly – 2011 – 1 volume

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about a Drawn & Quarterly book! Actually, the reason for that is that I wanted badly to read Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, but since this came out just before it, I forced myself to read this first. And since this wasn’t Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths, I just couldn’t do it.

I do like these Drawn & Quarterly books, as they are usually fairly literary short story collections that collect material from the late 60s-early 70s that we would otherwise not see in English. The Tatsumi books are the most widely read, but D&Q has a few interesting artists out now, and it’s always nice to pick up something so completely different.

The downside is that when the book isn’t my flavor, I have a hard time getting through the whole volume. Unfortunately, A Single Match falls into this category, and the short stories were so abstract and surreal I had a hard time following most of them, and struggled to finish.

This starts with the first story, Color of Rain. A little boy is caught out in the rain and falls ill. While in bed, he tells his grandmother that he met his brother, to which she responds that he doesn’t have a brother. The boy… falls asleep, and meets his brother, and the two of them ride a trolley through the stars. The boy wakes up in the darkness, and then runs to find his grandmother.

I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was going on in this story. I thought maybe the boy had a brother that died in infancy (like a phantom twin or something), I wasn’t sure if he was dreaming, or if he died and his dead brother came to get him, and when he wakes up in the house, I thought maybe his grandmother died. I… I just don’t know. It could be any or all of those things. Then again, maybe the little boy just had a strange dream. Either way, the story is a surreal dream fantasy. Interesting in its way, but maddening for the likes of me to read.

Almost all of the stories are like this. A girl paying a visit to what appears to be some sort of battered spouse leaves and has a conversation with a disembodied head, which then takes a nap in her naked lap among other sleeping disembodied heads. One story… might be about a boy that wandered through towns into adulthood. I don’t know. One is about an old, forgotten woman in a small town. It references the fact she… might be mentally handicapped, except then she’s not. It also states that she murders children, except she doesn’t. It hints she might be some sort of prostitute, but then… she isn’t? She has a crush on a man for years, who… she doesn’t marry, I guess, and maybe she dies after being raped by one of the town’s residents?

A few of the stories are slightly more concrete, though. One is about a boy paying a visit to a town with his father, who begs for more work and then gambles away the pay he does collect. Another is about a man who finds a key and keeps it as a good luck charm. It doesn’t pay off for years and years, despite his fantasies about what the key might do to his life, but then he does manage to make a connection with it. Another is about a boy that begs his destitute father for a radio he doesn’t want.

The stories aren’t really about the plots, which is where my interests lie. They are usually abstract and surreal jaunts that focus on the emotions of the characters, and at that they are very good. The story I mentioned about the boy who wanders towns through adulthood is the best at this. It doesn’t really describe what’s happening, but merely takes events that leave a strong impression on the boy and shows us unconnected snapshots, of a sort. We get the vague idea that the “boy” is aging throughout the course of the story, but regret or purpose doesn’t enter into it. It’s merely a story about a wandering boy and the things he encounters.

The unconnected images/scenes do take some getting used to, though. In the first story, about the boy meeting his brother, a similar narrative is used, which is why I was confused as to what was actually happening. However, unused to this narrative strategy, it instead reads like the pages of the book are sticking together, and I kept trying to turn back a page and figure out what I missed.

The art and stories themselves are fine, though. Written, as they were, in the early 70s, the focus on small towns and rural settings makes for a setting that is apart from modern society without actually dating the stories. And Suzuki has interesting art, which periodically plunges everything into shadows. It’s not as crazy and surreal as, say, the art in Box Man, but reminds me more of the art in Red Snow. Perhaps just because of the way the stories are set, though. The book does read like a bizarre mix of Red Snow, The Box Man, and a Yoshiharu Tsuge story.

It’s definitely not for me, but I can still appreciate what it’s trying to do. The stories are beautiful, in their way, but I can’t quite adequately describe how since I wasn’t able to fully grasp what was going on. And again, I do love that Drawn & Quarterly releases such a wide variety of books, including ones like this. Even when I don’t like them, I still feel like I learned something about what was going on in the “underground” manga scene of the early 70s.