Tuesday, February 19, 2008

LA PERDIDA, by Jessica Abel


I got about thirty pages into this graphic novel, and felt so irritated with it that I put it aside for weeks. I was planning on returning it to the library unfinished, but before I got around to that, I ran out of things to read, and picked it up again. I'd originally been turned away by the characters (all of them struck me as unsympathetic) and the level of narration (which felt excessive to me, and poorly matched by the illustration; you hardly even need to look at the pictures to read this comic, which strikes me as a poor use of the form). The protagonist, Carlita Olivares, in particular soured my mood; she's a naive American eager to embrace the "exotic" culture of Mexico City, and she reminded me of a lot of the travellers I encountered during my time living abroad--people so enamored with preconceived notions that they end up being blinded to the individuality of the locals, and the particulars of the place.

When I picked it up the second time, and got farther in, I started to appreciate it more. Carla never really endeared herself to me, but the plot develops directly from her personality, and ends up telling a unique, compelling story. (The other characters, likewise unlikeable, also feel very well-rounded.) It turns out that Carla's naivete and desire to embrace the "exotic" are the very reason the story can happen. Her inability to open her eyes to the nature of the people she relates with, her tendency to filter the world through romanticized images, puts her in the position of being taken advantage of by certain lowlife individuals. You never end up feeling sorry for her, but that doesn't keep her disaster from being really interesting.

The story ends up bringing the reader into a place we couldn't have foreseen, a rather nefarious place with serious consequences. We might not have predicted the way the plot developes, but it's hard to doubt the plausability of it.

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