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To a certain extent, some books want you to judge them by their covers. There are blurbs, subtitles to main titles, and even sub-subtitles (for which there has to be a better term). Sure, way back when everyone spoke and wrote properly (read: any century before the 19th, mostly) the books couldn't be judged by their covers. They were, for the most part, plain. No blurbs, no elaborate illustrations or pretentious photographs (or even unpretentious photos), they were basically little surprises.
Now though? You can get a good idea what you're going into. A perfect example of this is the book I just started reading, "Alec" by Eddie Campbell. This book is actually a great example of this theory, because "Alec" isn't even the official title. It's technically called "Alec: 'The Years Have Pants' (A life-sized omnibus)." While the subtitle didn't offer me too much insight, the sub-subtitle did. It caught my attention, anyway, so I flipped the book over and read the back.
The synopsis reads as such: "Brilliantly observed and profoundly expressed, the Alec stories present a version of Campbell's own life, filtered through the alter ego of 'Alec MacGarry.' Over many years, we witness Alec's (and Eddie's) progression 'from beer to wine' - wild nights at the pub, existential despair, the hunt for love, the quest for art, becoming a responsible breadwinner, feeling lost at his own movie premiere, and much more! Eddie's outlandish fantasies and metafictional tricks convert life into art, while staying fully grounded in his own absurdity. At every point, the author's uncanny eye for irony and wry self-awareness make even the smallest occasion into an opportunity for wit and wisdom. Quite simply, ALEC is a masterpiece of visual autobiography."
By now any potential reader should have a good idea what they're getting into, but the covers of this big book aren't done yet (it's 640 pages!). There are blurbs from not only Alan Moore, but Neil Gaiman as well, and if the tweedy comic book royalty can't convince you this is something you should be reading, allow me to try.
Blog/podcast partner David read the synopsis and immediately latched onto the word "metafictional," and threw it at me. For some reason our friendship contains this odd mechanism that forces us to take pleasure from the others dislike and nerd-rage, so he was pretty excited to see how I'd react. I'm a staunch disbeliever in breaking the fourth wall, and hate when something gets "metaficitional." I'm beginning to think I have a varying definition of these two storytelling devices than some.
So far - and I'm not 100 pages in yet - "Alec" doesn't fall into the "metafictional" category for me. Eddie Campbell - the writer/artist of the tome, and artist for Alan Moore's "From Hell" graphic novel - wrote and drew autobiographical comics, but changed his name to Alec MacGarry. Although the term "metafictional" does tend to refer to self-referential stories, I'm not sure if that counts when a work is autobiographical. The author is writing about himself, yes, but "metafictional" has a word in there that makes this a round-peg-square-hold kind of deal: "fictional."
While I'm sure there are portions and aspects of the stories Campbell presents that are fictionalized - seriously, who remembers every single world spoken in a conversation? - this is a book about Campbell's life told through the life of another, albeit fictional, person.
Actually, it might be kind of hard to define what exactly "Alec" is, other than good. It delivers on it's promise of brilliant observations. The stories are funny, poignant, and some very sad. So far I've only read one that left me somewhat disappointed - and confused; there were too many character names for my lizard brain to follow - but I have a feeling that will be the rarity here.
If you like interesting stories about how weird and normal we all are, definitely read "Alec."