12th August, 2022, Tottenham
I read this graphic novel about two weeks ago during the course of a single afternoon in which my lover, my dog and I walked from our strange high-ceilinged room to the William Morris museum or gallery (I can’t remember what it was called but it definitely functioned as both) in Walthamstowe to see an exhibition about a pioneering Black British textile designer. Because Cubby was with us and the museum operated a strict and unjustified “no dogs” policy – they permitted children, even though every single one I saw was much worse trained than my dog – there was plenty of time for siting outside holding a lead and reading this deeply, deeply mediocre comic/graphic novel from the 1980s (or possibly early ’90s).
It was at least two weeks ago so, to be totally frank, I don’t remember any of the characters’ names at all, but I do remember the things about the text that pissed me off, and I especially remember the things about this edition that had me – while my lover went for a piss at the trendy (for Walthamstowe) wine bar we stopped off at on the walk home – making a goldfish like ¿whatwhatwhy? flapping mouth as I struggled to understand why (and for who?) such a thing as the Why I Hate Saturn: Deluxe Screenplay Edition had been produced.
For a start, the title is a bit of a distraction – the protagonist’s sister is a not-too-devout follower of a cult that believes its members are not truly human, but instead implanted aliens from Saturn. When she is most in sync with the beliefs of her cult, she dresses like an unimaginatively costumed alien from the 1960s (i.e. chic skintight body suit and a little antenna sticking out of her head).
She rocks up at her sister’s house and proceeds to domestically and financially help her sister until suddenly disappearing. Her sister is a hotshot columnist working for a hip – but almost certainly unbearable – magazine, and is basically halfway between Carrie Bradshaw and whatever the main character in Shrill is called (I think it’s Annie, but I have doubts). The writer character hangs out with friends, goes on bad dates, gets a makeover, lives the life of a hip singleton in New York City, until (after her sister skips town) an incredibly rich and powerful former lover of hers (the sister) turns up and gets her (the writer) fired and evicted because she won’t connect him with his ex (i.e. the sister).
The writer sister – homeless and broke – then sets out to try and find her sister in California, and on the way she discovers that her ex boyfriend (a “one that got away” type “main ex” thing) had been in love with her sister the whole time they were together. Eventually, she finds her sister and together they’re chased by the sister’s rich ex’s goons and/or police (I can’t remember which but the police are basically the hired muscle of the economic elite, anyway (if you disagree with that, you’re a fool and/or a cop and either way you’re not welcome on TriumphoftheNow.com (unless you’re a fool, this is a fool friendly place!!!))) and the sister who’s in the cult pulls out a rocket launcher and destroys the pursuers. The writer returns to her previous life.
I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking the same thing when I picked up the book in one of the world’s best bookshops, Drawn and Quarterly in Montreal. However, rather than being a genre-defining exploration of the kinda life in the big city we’re all living, baby, the whole thing falls flat, as it basically tries to dramatise the lived experience of young women but was written by a man and nothing that happens in it, really, rings true. It’s trying to function in a realist space, but the narrative and the characterisation are both too weak to carry the Kafkaesque set-up anywhere worth going. There is no nuance, but simultaneously no spectacle. There is no knowledge. There is no sense of personality or personhood in the text – the characters are vehicles for jokes, gags, banter, but none of them are funny, really. (Maybe there were 30 years ago!) & this is why the mooted television adaptation of text- a screenplay for a pilot is included at the end of this volume – was doomed to fail. This book feels like it is not written by the kind of people that this book is about, and this is its problem: I didn’t read this and presume Kyle Baker was a hip youth who had a blast in NYC, I read this and presumed Kyle Baker was a nerdy youth who didn’t really know what having fun was. Maybe I’m wrong – Kyle, if you’re reading this, tell me about your parties! & & & aside from the second-rate (i.e. barely present) characterisation, the narrative is all over the place, & not in a postmodernist deliberately-unsatisfying way, in a half-arsed not really caring one.
In short, it’s just not very good.
Maybe I missed something here , maybe it’s my loss, but for me, Why I Hate Saturn, just wasn’t very good.
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