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This Will All End in Tears

Written and illustrated by Joe Ollman
Insomniac Press
168 pages, $16.95
ISBN-10: 1897178069
ISBN-13: 9781897178065

A pretty sure bet for anyone's short list for "best short-story collection of 2006," this slim volume is almost certainly a shoo-in for "most aptly titled book of 2006" as well: The six stories contain herein are among the darkest tales I've read in years.

 

The sound of a soul slowly hollowed out — sequence from "Big Boned," ©2006 Joe Ollman.

 

Joe Ollman's stories work because he doesn't try to rub the reader's noses in the various sticky situations and invitations to heartbreak that he depicts. The art excels at presenting Ollman's somewhat dumpy, everyday working stiffs without dipping too far in the direction of caricature, and his pacing and framing keep the action focused squarely on the events being depicted — the overall tone of the narrative is flat, which allows the stories to flow forward without seeming manipulative or trite, an essential element of This Will All End in Tears' success.

There's actually a fair amount of mordant humor in these stories, but make no mistake: Taken as a whole, This Will All End in Tears is one ferocious bummer of a book. The opening story, "Big Boned," is the best of the lot, and emblematic of the tone taken by everything that follows it, depicting the exact moment in the life of a mildly obese woman named Charlene when she gave up once and for all on ever finding romantic fulfillment. In lesser hands, this story likely wouldn't have worked; the impulse to reach towards cheap melodrama would likely have result in maudlin emotional pornography. Instead, Charlene narrates "Big Boned" almost as though she were looking in on someone else's life, like she can't quite believe these to be the cards that she was dealt until she has no choice but to play them and get it over with. The story's denouement is structured to look almost liberating, yet you know exactly where the rest of poor Charlene's life is going to lead, and it doesn't look bright at all. When I first dove into This Will All End in Tears, I read "Big Boned" and found myself unwilling to touch the book again for several days.

 

No, you can't have it your way; sequence from "Day Old," ©2006 Joe Ollman.

 

Indeed, I'd recommend reading This Will All End in Tears in short bursts, if for no other reason than that swimming its contents from front to back in one pass would likely reduce the emotional effect of its individual stories. Ollman takes us from a mother trying to feed her children on next to no cash while waiting for the doctors to examine her sickly infant, to a virginal Catholic girl's first heartbreak, to a middle-aged loser forced to deal with an ailing mother and developmentally disabled brother, and too much of this at once may seem a bit overwhelming.

If you're looking for light escapist reading, put this book down right now and walk away as quickly as possible. Those looking for engaging examples of human drama that stay with you long after you've finished reading, however, should get their hands on This Will All End in Tears as soon as possible.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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