The production quality of this paperback book is high: it has a solid binding, cover flaps, and the blue and black printing looks wonderful on the off-white (sepia, really) pages. But then, Seth didn’t just create this graphic novel, he designed the book, too.
The storyline first appeared in in his Palookaville comic series, and works to good effect here divided into chapters as more “traditional” novel — it doesn’t seem too choppy or arbitrarily segmented at all. In fact, it is hard to imagine anything arbitrary about Seth’s work in this book. The paper it’s printed on, the smooth but not glossy cover, the appendixed inclusion of his obsessive learning all fit just so.
Which makes sense, as the Seth narrating this story strives to have things just so, and frequently yearns for an unreachable “just so” somewhere in the past. The Seth in the book knows his own affectations, struggles with meaning (even gets a bit sick of himself) and sinks into depression the way others sink into a warm bath.
Its a good book, but I didn’t think the character was all that likable, or even smart — certainly not as smart as he thinks he is. (Sure, he’s smarter than his brother, and much more couth, but that is setting the bar fairly low.) I was more distant from the melancholy in his story than I would have been if I’d read it ten years earlier, but that probably has more to do with me than his rendering of it.
My advice would be that if the title itself piques your interest, you may well like this book. The art on the cover does make it possible to judge it — certainly worth taking a look at. It has received much critical praise, and The Comics Journal put in on its Top 100 Comics published in the 20th century list. Personally I don’t find Seth’s investigation of (wallowing in?) nostalgia or quest for self-discovery as charming as most critics apparently have, though I appreciate the precision and beauty of its crafting.