When I arrived in Toronto, I found myself walking along the busy streets a lot, simply to absorb this place that I hope to call my home. I have found myself very much attracted by the odd juxtaposition of architecture, with modern, sleek and plain-looking buildings contrasted with older but more elaborate ones. Both of them are clearly of a different time and of a different mindset, but they somehow manage to fit into the larger picture. Much of the same can be said of the cultures that reside in the city. There is a lot that can be absorbed and appreciated, that it only seems necessary to take a part of that culture with you. Hence, I've managed to amass a lot of objects here and there, going into a myriad of stores, ranging from high-class, air-conditioned ones deep inside monolithic megamalls and small, rustic ones where the owner is usually old, foreign or both.
One of those objects in particular is books. I'm not entirely sure why I haven't read as many books as I used to when I was younger. Or more importantly, why I don't have them in a collection that I can look at and say "yeah, I read all of these books". Granted it may be small and consist mostly of works I had to read for school, but it would still be nice to visualize it. It would be even more nice to expand my horizons in the literary world. Much as I believe that a good writer does not necessarily have to read a lot, the writer must still be a reader and a good one at that. Plus, it's important that I explore the works of others like I do with film, television and music.
So, during my freshman year in university, I managed to collect a huge selection of works, some ranging from Indigo, others ranging to vintage book stores that were near sex shops and strip clubs to gifts. And I didn't read many of them that year because I was overwhelmed by the change of environment, which sort of caused them to collect dust. I still could feel them staring at me, saying that I looked like a tool for having them on the shelf despite not reading them or their Sparknotes. Now, in my second year, I have a little more control over my time, which means that I'll be able to actually get to reading those fucking books so they stop taunting me. Ironically, I'm going to be talking about one that I read in first year but only decided to talk about it my second year. There's three other books like this, so just bear with me.
This first book as you already can tell by the title of the review and the top of the review is Heartless. Heartless was created by Nina Bunjevac, a Yugoslavian artist whose style is dripping with film noir elements. It's not that far off to make the assumption, as the foreword by Jay Lynch indicates that she was inspired by "The Black Wave" of Yugoslavian cinema, a movement which comprised of works that were realistic, raw and filled with dark humor. Most of the work itself deals with human characters though on the cover of the book you see a feline lady who's not the slightest bit amused. She has a part in this compilation later on but it still maintains the tone and the weight of the whole piece. There are also some really bitching illustrations at the back.
Heartless consists of five stories in total, the first being Opportunity Presents Itself. It talks about a woman named Selma, whose in a rut who gets in contact with her uncle Dino in America to go there. Her uncle tells her that if an opportunity ever presents itself, she must seize it. Arriving there, the circumstances are less than glamorous, as they live in a triplex and she has to take care of her sickly aunt while going to her new job. She finds herself interested in a man named Rosario who her uncle warns her about, but as she finds the days go by at her job, she finds herself more and more tempted to see what the mystery is behind Rosario.
For the first story, it's quite the bait and switch, as it follows a standard "fish out of water" story, having Selma be idealistic and her uncle as the wise and protective aid to her journey, but then snaps the optimism in two in such a blunt manner that you kind of chuckle at the rapid shift into cynicism. As sad and confusing it was to see the conclusion, it was the first time I found myself saying "well, that's life" to such a negative turn of events. The introspection of Selma at her job along with the brief relationship that is established between her and Dino provide great support and add to the unimpressive, worrisome and drab circumstance that she's been thrust upon and it serves well to set the mood for what's to come.
Following that comes 1953, the shortest and most esoteric of the stories. It mostly hinges on a bit of dialogue based on 1953 by M. Djoric. Two women buy some fabric to make a dress using rationing stamps out and then tell their husbands about it, knowing that those stamps were their last ones. One of them has the husband be eager to see it on her, the other says she should cook the dress for dinner. When one woman asks the other what she did after the husband said that, she simply replies "And nothing, Dino was a good man". It's quite a punchline for the story, and although it's compact, it provides a lighter balance to the previous story while still being tied down to the darker material in a way.
The next story, The Real Deal, sort of takes what 1953 did to a more expanded level. It deals with a couple, Torvald and Nora. Torvald pawns off his wedding ring to try and support Nora. In this process, he doesn't become as loving to her and she worries that their marriage may be drifting apart. Seeking guidance, she consults a psychic named Madam M. who tells her that she has a curse and that she must give Madam M. $300 to have her luck improve. Once again, the start vastly differs from the end, and it serves as a good opposite to Opportunity Provides Itself. It's probably my second favorite story from the book, as it manages to capture the all-encompassing desperation of wanting to get back to a better time through the expressions on Torvald and Nora as he finds himself frustrated by their luck while she is depressed from it. You could perhaps argue that a more standard ending would have made a greater impact, but I think that this ending provides a better message.
With the fourth story, the cover starts to make more sense as we find ourselves faced to the main event of the book, Bitter Tears of Zorka Petrovic. In this five-part installment, Zorka is the cat-lady in question, finding herself madly in love with a stripper named Chip. It mostly follows her trying to contact Chip as she finds that she may be pregnant with his child. She deals with the malaise of being a middle-aged bachelorette, smoking and drinking constantly as she watches TV and listening to her sister talk to her about getting married as she's less than content about hearing that shit again. Along with her troubles is a subplot involving one of the strip club workers, Fay, who is suffering from addiction and slowly finds her more detached with reality. As the story progresses, the plots stay seperate until the climax in which it changes the direction in which Zorka reacts to Chip.
As it may not be much of a surprise, Bitter Tears Of Zorka Pertovic is my favorite story, not so much because it provides the most, but it heightens the best aspects of each of the previous stories. Zorka works wonderfully as a bitter, tired, romantic-at-heart, trying to take pleasure in her less-than-glamorous life. Her being a cartoonish cat helps to exaggerate her character and provides for some of the best detail in the artwork and the portions that deal with her trying to sway Chip into being with her are incredibly poetic for such a crass subject matter. Fay's subplot is great as well, adding more of the surreal dark humor that is already present with Zorka when she doesn't obsess over Chip. The laughs slowly get absorbed into a black hole of a bizarre but inevitable ending that seals the package of the story as well as a grey ribbon tied to a black box.
Finally, there's August, 1977. My third favorite story, it's one that words don't really do justice. It's about a man reading letters from his wife and daughter who are far away from him. They talk about how terrible the living conditions are and about the social and political turmoil that is around them, disagreeing with his stance on situations, all the while the man drinks and smokes. There's a clock ticking as he reads the letters as it shows him, the room he's in and people who are part of "the patriots" (a group of people who are doing far more harm than good). Each panel is perfectly minimalistic, with very noir lighting, and there is sufficient variety in the visuals that, coupled with the text, leave a eerie and melancholic mood. It just leaves you there at the end, unsure of what to make of what you just saw. There's just a quietness that just creeps along and consumes you. And you end up accepting it.
Heartless is a very apt title for the book, but not so much in the sense that it lacks passion or is entirely cold. But rather it expresses the action of having it ripped out. Each story deals with the troubles of love and has a point in which the whole situation is bereft of the empathy and sympathy that the heart gives. When there is no longer the heart, there is a limpness to the surroundings and a begrudging complacency that then follows. The main story entirely focuses on the dichotomy of wanting to be in love whilst also burdened by a pessimism that comes from your life and how undesirable you may see yourself as. Heartless gives you something to hope for but then leaves you with a part of your soul withered away. And, rather than be distraught that it has gone, you simply snicker and shrug it off.