Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Stuck Rubber Baby

BabyStuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse


Years ago, I read a comic book that had a profound effect on me.  It was about childhood, and growing up questioning everything around you.  That comic book was Brooklyn Dreams, by J.M. DeMatteis, and it was published by Paradox Press.  I was so impressed with the story that I’ve since made an effort to pay attention to the publisher, so when I saw that Stuck Rubber Baby was published by Paradox Press, I sat up and paid attention.

Stuck Rubber Baby is set in the South during the 1960s, and is about a gay man trying to come to terms with himself while simultaneously being caught up in the nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights Movement.  His participation in the movement is precipitated by his attraction to a women who attends a local college, but through his participation, he begins to confront his own racism, while confronting his own issues about his sexuality.  It’s a complicated story, but it’s powerful, and resonates long after you finish reading the story.

Cruse spent four years writing this story, and when you look at the artwork, you can see why.  The illustrations are dense, and are highly detailed.  Most of the work is shaded with crosshatching and dotting, and it boggles my mind to think how long it would have taken the artist to complete a single panel.  Combine this with a detailed and complex story of self-examination and self-acceptance, and four years doesn’t seem like quite a long time at all.

This is a story about superheroes and villains, like most graphic novels tend to be, but what makes Stuck Rubber Baby stand out is that the superheroes are people that you see on the street every day.  The main character acts selfishly and thoughtlessly, but he still struggles to do the right thing by overcoming his own inadequacies.  He draws strength from those people around him, and while his original intentions were far less admirable than the final outcome, he learns from his mistakes and grows from them.  You just might leave the book thinking, “If only we could all do the same….”

I think this is the aspect of the book that makes it so inspiring.  Because it’s populated with real characters with real imperfections, who still manage to overcome their shortcomings, we’re reminded that we all have that ability to do better, to attain that same level of “superhero” in our daily lives.  That it draws most of its power off of the Civil Rights Movement only strengthens the book’s resonance.

If you like comics, and you like a good story, find Stuck Rubber Baby.


May 16, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Upright Man

UprightThe Upright Man by Michael Marshall


This book, the sequel to The Straw Men, picks up with the lives of Ward Hopkins, John Zandt, and Nina Baynum after having uncovered a shadowy organization that followed a malicious agenda to purify the human race. Life hasn’t been good for the three of them, and it doesn’t get any better as they try to track down Ward’s long lost twin brother. If you’ve read The Straw Men, then you know why they’re trying to find Paul; if you haven’t read that book, then I’m not going to spoil it for you now.

Michael Marshall isn’t known for his upbeat, feel-good stories of life, and that hasn’t changed since his last book.  His nihilistic, hopeless outlook exists still in The Upright Man, and I struggle to come to terms with it, as I do with all his books.  His books tend to put me in a funk, but I find myself coming back to them, because he’s such a good writer.  Sure, he may stumble sometimes (I thought he had jumped the shark with one subplot in this book), but the promise of his brilliance, through “The Book of Irrational Numbers,” will bring me back to his work.

The author also has a great sense of human behavior, which he demonstrates with lengthy narrative asides where he expounds on what he thinks about people.  They grow a little tiresome (they occur frequently), but he manages to fit these asides into the overall story.  Plus, the way he presents them, it’s sometimes hard to disagree with him.

My biggest complaint with this book, though, is that it’s the second in a trilogy, but it doesn’t really follow much of what was put forth in The Straw Men.  It’s still compelling, and it’s still a successful book on its own, but it didn’t seem to follow up with the overall conspiracy theme that was the heart of the first book.  There are moments in the book where the author touches on these issues, but the primary story exists a little outside of the larger story that I expected this book to follow.  As it is, I feel like I’m going to have to wait for the third book to pick up that story, and it’s a little aggravating.

To be fair, though, there are aspects of the story that will be confusing to someone who hasn’t read the previous novel, but they’re few and far between.  I wish he had spent more time with that story.

Still, that complaint only exists within the context of the series; as a stand-alone novel, it’s fine, and is probably a higher class of thriller than you would usually find on a best-seller list.   If you like that sort of book, and you don’t mind a little dark introspection in your fiction, it’s worth your time to track down The Straw Men and start there. Marshall is a talented author, and shouldn’t be missed.

May 16, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment