Before I get around to going through the latest edition of Previews, I wanted to make a special note that Rebecca Kraatz’s House of Sugar (Tulip Tree Press) is among the solicitations. This is a good thing, as it’s indicative of Diamond’s willingness to reconsider a title that it had previously rejected. It’s also a good thing because House of Sugar is unusual, delightful reading.
It’s unusual for me because of what I find to be Kraatz’s plain-spoken approach to storytelling. It’s not that she skimps on detail, or that her work doesn’t have a point of view. It’s just that there’s simplicity, even bluntness to her delivery. She doesn’t coat every observation with irony, and the strips have a gentle, subtle wit as a result.
Take the concept of “treal.” It’s an acid-induced teen contraction of “true” and “real,” and Kraatz experienced a brief obsession with it in the 1980s. It’s the kind of admission that might lend itself to ironic detachment (“I’m not that dumb anymore.”) or sentiment (“But wasn’t I sweet?”), but Kraatz offers neither. It’s a snapshot of how she felt at a given moment, but there’s no slide-show narration giving it more weight than it can sustain. It’s a clear-eyed presentation without any ostentatious framing.
Kraatz has a wonderfully unique authorial voice, and it’s portably applied to the wide range of subjects that wander into her path. The four-panel strips run from autobiographical moments to observation to flights of fancy, held together by Kraatz’s distinct point of view.
Her rhythms are unconventional. There are no obvious punch lines, though House of Sugar is often very funny. The moments Kraatz captures don’t always need a familiar shape or even conventional closure to succeed as observational pieces; I think they work better without them.
Kraatz’s illustrations are of a piece with her writing voice. She composes the strips with imagination and wit. (A priest stops by the house and seems to be trailing a corona; the effect of a bad kiss is framed in crime-comic extremity.) I don’t know how her work would hold up in a longer narrative, but it’s ideal for the captured-moment quality of these strips.
This is a lovely inaugural book for Hope Larson’s Tulip Tree Press, comforting and thoughtful but spiked with weirdness and imagination. It’s observational humor without any self-indulgence or strain.
(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)