I can’t bring myself to skim when I’m reading for pleasure. If the book is awful enough, I’ll abandon it entirely, but if it doesn’t hit that threshold, I feel compelled to read every word. This can be a problem. It certainly was when I was reading CLAMP’s Clover (Dark Horse). The book is beautifully drawn, economically plotted, often moving, and includes some of the worst poetry I’ve ever read. It includes that awful poetry dozens of times, and, masochistic completist that I am, I felt obliged to read them every time.
“a bird in a gilded cage,
a bird bereft of flight,
a bird that cannot cry,
a bird all by itself”
These are the lyrics of one of the lynchpin characters, a chanteuse whose untimely death did not, unfortunately, take her songs with her. They’re portrayed as so moving that even isolated psychics can be stricken by their beauty, but I was reminded of the reject pile from my high-school literary magazine.
“Letting me forget with your voice and your touch;
Breaking off the chains that bind my heart and feet”
Now I’m not going to say that my taste in lyrics is impeccable. Sure, I think Stephen Sondheim is a god, but I also liked Air Supply back in the day. But I could hear Air Supply’s awful, awful lyrics being sung, backed by lushly cheesy orchestrations with achingly sincere vocals. In Clover, I have nothing but the words over and over again. I wish there was an advanced version of that greeting-card technology that would allow me to actually hear a song rather than just read its maudlin lyrics. While Dark Horse has done a beautiful and generous job producing this collection, it doesn’t sing when you open it.
Well, okay, it kind of sings when you open it, because the illustrations are very, very beautiful. The four members of CLAMP trade duties, and Clover was drawn by Mokona with assistance from Tsubaki Nekoi and Satsuki Igarashi, with story by Nanase Ohkawa. What’s most striking to me is the use of negative space. Backgrounds are rather scant; panels float on fields of white and black, creating a precision of emotional effect. It also highlights the elegance, verging on sensuality, of the juxtaposition of the panels.
Lyrics aside, it’s got a story that’s economical and moving, as I said earlier. It’s about immensely powerful psychics identified by the government for possible intelligence and military use who turned out to be a little too powerful for that government’s comfort. The psychics try to find comfort and peace within the restrictions of their daily lives, and some are more successful than others. The collection is less a beginning-to-end narrative than a timeline-jumping look at a group of interconnected characters, a core event, and the things that led up to it. There are some nicely understated moments and many lushly angst-y ones.
“Now, come close to me,
I’ll sing an endless song,
God, please tell me,
Redder than red, the truest love.”
But, god, those lyrics.