With this new title from Xavier Betaucourt and Yannick Marchat, New Life brings us into the world of a middle-aged man, Xavier, who is ready to settle into a new life, a second life. He has chosen to be happy rather than continue to exist in a dead marriage and a job he hates. His son is grown, his marriage is dissolved, and he’s met a lover named Lea who happens to be barren. At least, she’s barren until she isn’t. Suddenly, Xavier’s plans are shattered, and he’s thrust down the path of having to raise another child, and he’s scared and selfish.
It was this second part that, for me, made it difficult to live inside the head of this nervous wreck who was constantly questioning the situation he found himself in. Being scared is one thing, questioning life and mortality is natural, but to the point of being belligerent towards Lea’s family members? I continued to wonder why Lea would stay with him, especially since he was like this for almost the entire pregnancy. Why was she so patient? At one point, she draws her shoulders in and hugs herself and asks him why he can’t be nicer to her. The book takes on a rich and welcome layer when Lea finally does lose her patience. I’d like to see this same story told from her side, because aside from smiling at almost everything and these few moments of sadness and strength, I don’t know Lea very well: who she is, what she does, what she’s giving up... Xavier is too self-absorbed to go into it for any extended period of time.
New Life truncates every month of the pregnancy down to Xavier’s mostly ever-heightening neurosis until he feels more like a jerk than a caring, compassionate partner. As with stories like this, though, the acting out is all fear-based, a natural human behavior. As he becomes more and more used to the idea of having a child at his age, that fear wavers, and he returns to the excited, caring person we want him to be and that Lea needs him to be. Unfortunately, the one thing we never really truly hear Xavier say is “I"m sorry.”
It almost makes this journey far too real. This is how people act when driven by fear. I’m not sure if Betaucourt was making a point with this, but it feels more to me like he’s just allowing these characters to be. In that way, it feels like something that Michaelangelo Antonioni would put on the screen; La Notte, L’Avventura, and L’Eclisse are films that all spring to mind. In capturing that kind of story, Betaucourt succeeds, simply laying bare the imperfections of the aging male psyche.
Marchat’s artwork is gentle, giving us soft curves and large eyes with calming colors. Lea’s eyes are the biggest, and so full of life. Like the Mona Lisa, there are no straight lines on her. Xavier’s eyes are button-like most of the time, betraying Xavier’s adolescent view of the world – seeing things fresh, but also forgetting how to empathize. Maybe he never was able to figure it out his first time around, and so by going through the process of having another child, he’s, in fact, giving birth to a more complete and fuller version of himself. The best self.
I know in this review that I don’t come right out say, “I loved it” or “I hated it,” because I think it’s far more complex than that. I think it’s very important to be clear about that. It doesn’t deserve something so simplistic. This is a personal story; this is a story that’s going to affect its readers in very different ways based on where a person is in their lives, their gender, whether have or haven’t had kids, etc. Me? I’m 40. I constantly consider what it will be like when I do have a kid. When they reach 20, I could be as old as 65. That’s weird to think about, and I know I haven’t handled every aspect of every relationship with patience, but you grow and you learn. Xavier is forced to do this at the age of 47. I laugh writing this, because there is a lot of truth in this book. It’s a very beautiful book, even though I spent most of the time judging the main character. Maybe that’s because, for the moment, I don’t consider myself akin to Xavier. I choose not to relate to that. But in the future, picking this up again, I may. One never knows.
That’s the beautiful thing about the Life Drawn imprint. No one is concerned about pleasing the reader, but about challenging them. They are more concerned about opening a window for you to see into. There isn’t another company or brand like this in the United States, and I welcome it with open arms. You should, too. Give New Life a try; you might love it.
Creative Team: Xavier Betaucourt (story), Yannick Marchat (art), Montana Kane (translator)
Publisher: Humanoids (Life Drawn)
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