”Why does every great book always have to be about criminals or perverts?” asks an unnamed character in Building Stories as she flips through works by Dostoyevsky and Nabokov. ”Can’t I just find one that’s about regular people living everyday life?”
Someone ought to tell her she’s starring in one. Graphic novelist Chris Ware’s latest has the makings of a modern classic. The story follows four people living in a Chicago apartment complex as they feed cats and fix toilets, leading tiny lives that often reveal something funny or depressing about the daily grind of being human. It’s told with great originality, through 14 beautifully illustrated flipbooks, comics, and posters that can be read in any order. They’re all connected, if only tangentially. And Ware suggests that people are too.
The title is telling: These are stories about a building, but Ware also has something to say about the nonlinear way in which real stories are built. Some narratives cut off in the middle. (Just like life. Sad!) Others flash back to childhood or imagine the future, as characters wonder if they’ll end up with families or die in their armchairs all by themselves. The question of whether we’re ultimately alone haunts these pages. But it’s so easy to identify with these ordinary characters that it can’t be true that we’re alone. At times Ware’s ”great book” feels like it could be about anyone’s life. Other times, it doesn’t feel like a book at all. It’s a keepsake box full of things you won’t want to forget. A+