Tales From Outer Suburbia

by Shaun Tan
ISBN: 9780545055871

I’ve loved Shaun Tan’s work since I discovered The Red Tree. From The Rabbits to The Lost Thing and on to The Arrival (which seemed to bring Tan the wider attention he’s deserved) I’ve been fascinated, enthralled.

I have to wonder if there is even a point in me writing reviews of his books anymore, because I feel like I keep saying the same things. Which is not to say his books are all the same — other than the art is stunning in each one — only that I’m repeating myself (go buy it, you won’t be sorry). Shaun Tan is on a very short list of folks whose next book (whatever the next book is) I’m buying, in hardcover, at full price, because without question it will be worth it.

Not that his work has to be the same to be worth it. This book is different from the last, in that The Arrival was wordless, and this is one has typed up text on pages stories. (Fabulously illustrated short stories, of course.) There’s strangeness: large water mammals on the lawn, a water buffalo who gives advice, a tiny truly foreign exchange student living on a pantry shelf strange.

There’s also danger and absurdity (“Alert But Not Alarmed”), violence and uncertainty (“Stick Figures”) sadness and wonder (“Undertow”) and, like all good collections of stories, too many associations and feelings to pack in to a single review. Tan’s writing is not as strong as his visuals, but I almost didn’t notice that; the art is so compelling and the ideas absorbing enough, I’m not sure I can separate out the text from the images, nor do I think that is the point.

Tan is a world builder (that is the point) and the fifteen tales here all take place in a peculiar surburban world. There is an edge to the map; you might fall off. Pick up this book and see what you recognize, see if you get lost.

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