I am always on the lookout for graphic novels to cover that are not part of a series, and since I am familiar with Ghost World, I decided to check out Patience by Daniel Clowes. Those that are more familiar with his work than myself seemed to have mostly good things to say, so I was excited to flip through 180 pages of full-color artistry.
The Situation: Jack and Patience have just found out that they are soon to be parents. They are at both incredibly excited, as well as scared out of their minds. In other words, they are feeling and behaving like most soon-to-be first time parents. Patience's anxiety comes from their financial instability, plus any leftover issues she has from her difficult childhood and adolescence. Jack's anxiety also stems from money, as he has been lying to Patience about his current job situation, and for some reason felt the need to take the lie further, telling her about a better position that may become available to him. After resolving to tell Patience the truth, Jack comes home to find Patience has been murdered. This will change the trajectory of his entire life as he never gets over her death. Only after a chance conversation with a prostitute when he is much older does he finally come upon a plan to get his life back.
The Problem: The plan involves time travel. Incredibly complicated, dangerous, and risky time travel. Not only could Jack potentially mess up things for the future, even more so then they already are, but he could also get the mechanics wrong and end up stuck in a different time, and still without Patience. Even worse, he could end up stuck nowhere...somehow slipping between the fabrics of time with no way out. But Jack is determined to keep Patience from getting killed, giving his baby a chance to actually be born. At first his plan is pretty straight forward, but because he cannot seem to be able to keep his temper in check, and after learning things about Patience's past that are beyond unsettling, things become complicated quickly, his cover nearly gets blown, and things begin affecting the future in ways he never considered.
Genre, Themes, History: As I already mentioned, this is a graphic novel. And because it deals with time travel, I have also given it the label of science fiction. Even decades after Patience's murder, Jack is still obsessed with finding the killer, even if the only brand of justice the killer will get is whatever Jack can administer on his own. And since Jack never does catch the guy, his obsession, bitterness, and rage cause him to adopt time travel as a way to stop the murder entirely. All the rules of time travel that we have heard and read about are mentioned at some point, whether explicitly, or through Jack's actions and consequences. He mentions not wanting to touch anything for fear of affecting the future, but then things keep happening that are too big not to affect something major down the road. But Jack's grief continues to push him forward despite all of the evidence that this whole endeavor mostly has a chance of going incredibly wrong, and possibly making the future even worse. Clowes explores the power of grief and its ability to cause someone like Jack to ignore the seriousness of time travel.
My Verdict: I would certainly recommend this book to any Clowes fan, but also anyone interested in time travel, or even just graphic novels in general. The somewhat heartbreaking story of Patience's life will surely affect most readers, and Jack's determination to rewrite history for the woman he loves and his unborn child is something I am sure many people can relate to. But the gruesomeness of the reality of what Jack must do becomes a different kind of reality check when it is drawn out in full-color pictures as opposed to just words on a page. Having the crimes Jack must commit in order to be successful presented in color with minimal dialogue make for a very different experience than with a traditional book. If anything, the experience of reading this graphic novel makes it worth picking up, even if you have zero interest in time travel.
Favorite Moment: When Jack risks exposure and takes on three guys attempting to take advantage of and humiliate a young Patience.
Favorite Character: Everyone in this story has their issues, but Jack's sheer determination is enough for me to pick him.
Recommended Reading: The only other book I have read by Clowes is Ghost World, so naturally I recommend that. But I will also recommend Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, in either novel or graphic novel form.