Adrian Tomine's new collection of short stories is just 121 pages long. But it took me two weeks to read it and longer to think about it and be ready to write something. And of course, he writes comics (or graphic novels, or comix or whatever term is preferred this day) so I could have read it all in an hour. But that wouldn't have done justice to a series of tales that are so sad and lovely and human. First, the entire book published by Drawn & Quarterly is just a pleasure to hold in your hand. It's beautifully designed, from the translucent cover to the haunting image imprinted on the front itself, a picture of a suburban street with its Denny's restaurant and strip malls and cars seemingly frozen in place. It has no people and a Hopper-like aura of loneliness that captures well the tone of the stories within. Each story plays with form in subtle ways. While every story feels of a piece, capturing people struggling to connect or give their life some purpose or explain their inchoate desires and fears; they also are jazz-like in their low-key visual differences. "A Brief History Of The Art Form Known As 'Hortisculpture'" is an homage to comic strips down to the color Sunday edition and has a tale of frustrated creativity anyone in a relationship with a closeted musician/painter/writer/sculpture will identify with. "Translated, from the Japanese" leaves the absence of the characters being talked about while they fly from one city to another wonderfully resonant. "Intruders" and its sketch-like visuals add a noir-ish vibe to the story of a returning soldier trying to find something to moor him to the country he's returned to but can't connect with. The writing is taut and telling but of course it's the combination of writing and visuals that make these short stories and graphic novels in general so unique and powerful. "Go Owls" shows the shock of physical abuse in a relationship in just a few brief panels. The title story "Killing And Dying" surprises us regularly with the journey of a stuttering, insecure daughter looking to stand-up for some confidence while her father undermines and awkwardly supports her at the same time. Yet it's the dad standing by while watching his wife through a window comfort their crying daughter that moved me more than any accusations, failed punchlines or heckles from hostile audiences. It's natural to compare Tomine to other graphic novelists but I kept thinking of William Trevor, an Irish specialist in short stories so heart-wrenchingly sad it could take me months to read any new collection he put out. One of the year's best books. Period.