Such was the feeling I had when I finished reading The Playwright (White/Campbell). At first blush, this seems like a slice of life, following the day-to-day of a writer in the U.K. and his active imagination in an otherwise ho-hum existence. There are no grand visions of Unicorns and Merfolk, though. Mostly, he fantasizes about women taking off their clothes, or the possibility of becoming romantically involved with complete strangers. To any cinephiles familiar with Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, this may ring a bell. But, as the narrative unfolded, the details of the writer’s past, his tenuous familial connections, and his consistently failed attempts at romance kept drawing me in.
The Playwright’s preoccupation with sex is evident from the first chapter (even the book’s cover with many buxom females, frolicking nude in the distance is a pretty good giveaway), and it seems to follow wherever he goes. At times it is expected, almost normal. Ever have a moment when you can’t seem to get your mind off bolstering the ranks of the human race? (Insert winky face here.) These are common, everyday insanities with which we are all familiar. But, in other ways, it is far too consuming, and you find yourself wondering if this guy has ever been laid at all. Make no mistake, this is no 40-year-old virgin, there are no slap-stick moments of discomfort (though there are a few humiliating ones), and nothing in the way of gross-out humor. Just a quiet fellow getting on with his life and asking the questions that, no doubt, come with age.
Technically speaking, this book is really smartly put together. The little snippets of third-person narration and each paneled drawing leading one to the next reminds me of a children’s story book and affects a kind of charm. Use of silence is good, but you have to pay attention. Even when there is narration, the pictures often tell much more. A few clever devices are employed, for instance: the playwright in profile at his computer, surfing the web, each panel with him wearing a different costume (Nurse, Scuba diver, Fireman). The implication of what he is watching or reading is vastly more entertaining than what he is actually doing. It’s a great hook, and one of the fun, little things to look for while going along.
Though the story (while not action packed) is just engrossing enough that I found myself tempted to skim over the pictures, this is a book that lends itself to taking your time. Some might describe it as ponderous; I’d say it’s more meditative. The way they make drama out of little things is enjoyable, though it sometimes seems like the big things (Death/Love/Family) are slightly trivialized or glossed over.
The intrigue of his character keeps the story interesting even while the pace is very deliberate. He is nuanced but not overly described. If anything, the storytelling is timid, offering just a peek here, and a glimpse there. It is subtle, almost teasing, and I love it for that. Yes, this fellow is a little weird, but then so am I. Yes, he is functioning with his fair share of neurosis, and again, so am I. The playwright is not so foreign after all. He is us. And, this book is a good reminder that even a simple life can be complicated.