Having spent a good deal of his mental bandwidth determining his ideal of feminine beauty — which just so happens to directly coincide with the appearance of a cousin he spent one summer kissin' — the titular nineteen-year-old security guard happens upon Wanda, a woman who fits the bill and then some. After she disappears without explanation and an unidentifiable assailant shoots David non-fatally, the Boring family — sans the long-absent father, who David never met and has only a single issue of a superhero comic the man drew in the 50s as proof of his existence — and David's lesbian roomate Dot take a trip to their island vacation home, where they find the mother's cousin's family staying. An old uncle later shows up claiming that nuclear war has commenced, causing things to get pretty Lord of the Flies on the island: one member of the group drowns, the food runs out, accusations are flung.
Eventually, David winds up back on the non-nuclearly-devastated mainland, dating a vegetarian who lacks the posterior of size that he so desires. He discovers that the guy who shot him is a professor who also fell for Wanda, and after meeting and commiserating it becomes clear to them that she's one of those girls who presents herself as the picture of purity — to each of the many dozens of guys she's run off with since, like, thirteen. Investigating Wanda's background, David then falls for her older sister Judy, who's essentially a less flaky version of her sibling. David and the professor tack Wanda down in a nearly-abandoned cult commune, some cops get on David's trail, and David ultimately finds himself back in the island house, kissin' his cousin.
Madelaine brought home a bunch of Daniel Clowes comics last week, and out of curiosity I read them all. I'd been aware of the guy's work for years, but for some reason always preferred that of his close artistic cousin (and Marketplace of Ideas guest) Peter Bagge. My judgment so far is that Clowes, like Bagge, has mastered the skill of portraying loners and losers in alternative comics, but he draws more realistically and writes less realistically. Bagge combines wildly cartoonish artwork with plots that could happen to your roommate; Clowes combines almost grotesquely real-looking artwork with plots that only kind of make sense.
Consider David Boring. Though in these writeups I prefer to provide the premise of the work in question rather than the complete story, that wasn't really possible here; I couldn't have just described the background of the book and let your imagination go to work, because you wouldn't have imagined anything remotely resembling the comic's actual narrative. I suppose I could have written "and then a bunch of weird stuff happens" after Wanda drops out of sight and David gets plugged, but that seems somehow... unsatisfying.
Not that the story really adds up, even in full. I can't help but read a lot of Clowes' work as autobiographical — the details feel a little too authentic, and they appear in the lives of characters with uncanny biographical similarity to the author — but the events of David Boring are too weird to have happened to anyone, except maybe in a dream. The trouble with stories like these is that they don't stick, at least to me; I had to consult Wikipedia to make sure I even had the plot right, which really doesn't bode well for my ability to pull themes out of the thing.
I don't know how much this says about me, but the most resonant one I could identify was the straight man's struggle against — or, as the case may be, capitulation to — his precisely dialed-in preferences in the female form. (Maybe women and gay men have equivalent problems, but I can't claim direct experience.) By this I don't mean male enslavement to the pursuit of female beauty in general; that's a way-overblown idea, and besides, it doesn't feel like enslavement from the inside. I mean the way that some guys can define to the smallest practical level of detail what they can't do without in a woman. (As opposed to the guys for whom anything biologically female with a body temperature of eighty degrees or more means game on — I don't understand those guys.) Such a practice brings the practitioner face to face with one big question: better to compromise the ideal in the name of expediency, or hang on through the long, hard slog in order to satisfy your every little requirement?
In most cases, I don't think the ideal these men hold is that of a centerfold: blonde, DD cup, turn-ons: sense of humor and long walks on the beach, turn-offs: war. In fact, the appeal of having specific preferences is in part that they are idiosyncratic. David Boring describes his ideal woman thusly:
I am cursed by two things: an unsympathetic eye for perfection and a blossoming knowledge of my own feminine ideal, specifically: the head (round eyes and mouth, a jaunty arc to the nose bridge), smallish and ovoid, leading with a particular tilt to an extended neck, swooping outward at the shoulders. A substantial carriage and arms; smallish round breasts; a convex stomach dividing powerful hips which, from side to back, describe a meaty semi-circle; proceeding downward to thick, girlish legs and insignificant feet.
This ideal conflicts with that held by his quick-to-die buddy Whitey: "gaunt, fashionable and dumb." Neither much coincide with my even-more-detailed vision of the Perfect WomanTM, probably because I don't have one: I've got more like a thousand small preferences that don't add up to a coherent whole. (None conflict directly, though most don't correllate; it's like wanting a car with pop-up headlights, a t-top, an ultra-specialized sound system and an unturned odometer.) But I'm a pragmatic sort of dude, so this sort of thing doesn't bend my life out of shape as it does David's.
It's clear that his pursuit of the ideal is what gets David into this surrealistic mess. But it's less clear that he could do otherwise: I mean, it's his ideal. When you've got the ideal in the crosshairs, you don't care about the consequences of locking on. And after being knocked around emotionally, roughed up, shot twice, chased by the fuzz and knocked out with a baseball bat, he winds up with the woman who formed his ideal, the original, so the hassle was presumably well worth it. So listen well, kids: follow your dream, but know that the path may grow nightmarish and that you might be satisfied only in an indirect way. But don't worry; it'll be a big, indirect, marginally incestuous way.