Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Before Scott Pilgrim, Bryan Lee O’Malley wrote Lost At Sea, a graphic novel about Raleigh, an eighteen-year-old girl road tripping home from California to Vancouver. Raleigh’s reason for being in California, the events that led up to her finding herself in a car with three people who are not exactly her friends, and the occasion for her own existential crisis follows a slow reveal. Raleigh’s process of untangling her thoughts and memories through an autobiographical meandering is paired with the real, believable dialogue that floats through the interior of the car, drawing her in and out of her own interiority.

Lost At Sea is a road trip book, and O’Malley illustrates numerous diners, motel rooms, and tiny, West Coast American towns, distinguishing them from one another to distance and progression, while also drawing attention to the way every small town is a replication of the same small town. Raleigh’s travel companions – Stephanie, Ian, and Dave – are well rounded and interesting, and they react favorably to the fact that Raleigh is joining them on their trip. They match Raleigh’s interiority with their own energy, dealing with obstacles that arise throughout the book humorously and authentically. When their car breaks down, Stephanie and Raleigh sit on the curb waiting for Ian and Dave to fix the car. They can’t figure it out, and give up with Dave’s exclamation, “I guess we should have studied harder in that class on how to be men.”

Raleigh slowly comes to terms with placing herself in the world – she’s a student at UBC, and her questions of belonging and home stem, in part, from her transition from high school to university. For example, her own thoughts are threaded with connection, or attempting to find connection:

Every time you look up at the stars, it’s like opening a door. You could be anyone, anywhere. You could be yourself at any moment in your life. You open that door and you realize you’re the same person under the same stars. Camping out in the backyard with your best friend, eleven years old. Sixteen, driving alone, stopping at the edge of the city, looking up at the same stars. Walking a wooded path, kissing in the moonlight, look up and you’re eleven again. Chasing cats in a tiny town, you’re eleven again, you’re sixteen again. You’re in a rowboat. You’re staring out the back of a car. Out here where the world begins and ends, it’s like nothing ever stops happening.

An extended conclusion to the book occurs in a small town (possibly in Oregon), where Raleigh convinces Ian, Dave, and Stephanie that she doesn’t have a soul, that it’s living inside of a cat, and they run through the town late at night, engaging in a treasure hunt to retrieve it for her. It’s one part realistic and one part whimsical, tied together by Raleigh’s experience of postadolescene and discovery of who she is and who she can be. O’Malley’s writing is lyrical at times, and ends with something that is more poem than prose, when delivered in Raleigh’s disconnected, re-connected, voice:

I am leaning back and running with it and staring at the stars and I’m eleven, I’m sixteen, I’m eighteen, I’m a newborn, I’m everyone everywhere with you without you unbound set free in limbo lost at sea.

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