PAUL an Intercom for God: VLS

“These Books are Intercoms for God” / The Village Voice / Ed Park / May 22, 2003

The Goldbarthian spirit commands that I either trick out this review in footnotes or (better) find a sympathetic companion piece, which is why I rope in Paul Has a Summer Job, the first book-length work by Québecois graphic novelist Michel Rabagliati. Appended to the plangent reminiscence of a stint as a camp counselor for underprivileged kids are a few notes explicating his native region's culture, circa 1979. But events in Rabagliati's patient story itself remind me of Pieces. Having quit high school after administrators scuttle his art project (based on Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince), narrator Paul heads for the open air, where he gradually shakes off his adolescent angst. He becomes a favorite of the campers, especially a blind girl, Marie; by summer's end, he's fallen in love with his co-counselor, Annie. Marie loses her beloved good-luck doll; Annie shows him a secret star near the Big Dipper. All this is done with considerable tenderness. Rabagliati's confessional writing is free of self-loathing, and his black-and-white panels eschew half-tones for a spirited line that adeptly conveys the messiness and joy of youth.

Time passes; Paul has a family, and one afternoon, at a distant house party, he realizes that he's overlooking the abandoned campsite. In an anecdote straight out of Goldbarth's list of the lost and found, he literally discovers Marie's talisman, as night falls all around him. Throughout, supergroup anthems lend goofy period color, but I dare you not to blink when "Wish You Were Here" wafts through the closing panels, as star, doll, and The Little Prince align in soulful syzygy . . . or some softer phrase. What did they call it back then? Emotional rescue.

Ed Park's fiction appears in Trampoline, out in July from Small Beer Press. He co-edits The Believer

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