I’ve given up on a number of books in my life. I certainly did that with this one. It’s currently the second tome that I’ve picked back up and returned to thanks to a desire to break down and analyze why I hated it so much. So congrats, Jeff Brown, you’re in the same league as J.K. Rowling’s baffling attempt at Young Adult romantic fiction: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Hey everybody, let’s spend multiple chapters on a needless battle and tying up loose ends from the rest of novel instead of giving Dumbledore’s death due observation. Thank fuck the movie cut that shit out). Jeff Brown’s Unlikely does have the unique distinction of being the only graphic novel that has ever bored me to exhaustion, and I only finished it to write this review. It also made me want to throw in with a certain mainstay of the Third Reich.
Main Character Jeff Brown is spending his life doing stuff. Sometimes Jeff Brown smokes weed, sometimes he plays music, sometimes he writes, sometimes he paints and draws, sometimes he listens to music, sometimes he plays video games, sometimes he reads, sometimes he watches movies, sometimes he watches television, sometimes he interacts with facile and unmemorable friends. Pretty much the only thing Jeff Brown doesn’t do is have sex. A virgin at 24, Jeff Brown feels out of touch. Then Jeff Brown meets Allisyn, a girl. Jeff Brown’s attracted to her. They smoke weed, Jeff Brown shows off his paintings, stories and drawings while Allisyn laments how talentless she is, they watch tv, they watch movies, and sometimes they have sex. Allisyn also used to be an addict. This issue comes back again. Allisyn breaks up with Jeff Brown. The end.
Why It Sucks
So how did it feel when you read that paragraph up there? Prepare to feel that if you read this book.
The dialogue in the novel is utilitarian. Natural, yes, but utilitarian. It’s rather like listening to five-year-olds talk. They don’t have a full grip on the language, so they speak in very simple terms, and sometimes have to defer to referencing the outside world quite a lot, but there is one redeeming factor in listening to five year olds. They have imagination, are full of wonder, and don’t really care if they talk nonsense. The characters in this book have a grade school vocabulary and the conversational depth of parrots. To make matters worse, Jeff Brown hand wrote all of the text in the book and his handwriting is damn near as awful as mine. Not to mention his text bubbles are small and not really arranged in such a way that you can easily tell what order it’s meant to be read.
Passage of time from panel to panel can be confusing too. This became really obvious during the sex scenes. A pivotal element of the book, and one that is actually unique and takes some bravery to talk about is Jeff Brown’s difficulty with achieving orgasm. The sex scenes with Allisyn normally end with Allisyn becoming too sensitive vaginally for Jeff Brown to come, and they usually quit before he gets off. This length of time is typically represented by them beginning sex in one panel, and Allisyn expressing pain (or perhaps orgasm, I can’t really tell because the artwork isn’t detailed enough) and telling him to stop in the very next. So basically it looks like she couldn’t take anymore immediately after they start. Each and every time. I can applaud Jeff Brown for attempting to depict sexual incompatibility and the oft-avoided fact that men don’t come with mechanical efficiency all the time, but his use of space fucks everything up.
Mumblecore: My favorite movie is Richard Linklater’s Slacker. An entire movie without a plot, that revolves around temporarily present characters talking to each other. What makes the movie interesting is that Linklater didn’t think it was needed to replicate human conversation precisely. Most of the dialogue in Slacker isn’t natural (it’s mostly monologue), but goddammit if it isn’t fascinating. The same goes for Kevin Smith films and the work of Bryan O’ Malley and Lena Dunham. I really enjoy books and films where dialogue is the main focus and the plot has little to nothing to do with anything, but when the conversation is between wayward 20 somethings who are stuck in a second grader’s mentality I lose all interest.
The main characters are uninteresting and shallow. The side characters are inconsequential. The artwork is maddeningly poor (Allisyn gets a haircut at one point and her hair looks longer *dies*). The dialogue is droning and poorly placed in the frames. The sense of pacing and timing is just wrong. Jeff Brown’s second book in his “Girlfriend Series” belongs in a fire.