Weekend Arts
November 20, 2012
Between Two Covers, Wide Worlds of Art

Roberta Smith

In the category of books by rather than about artists, one of the most stunning is Chris Ware’s new graphic novel, ‘BUILDING STORIES’ (Pantheon Books, $50), which elliptically tells the tale of a smart, fatalistic, unnamed young woman who happens to have a prosthetic leg, and of her search for love. As usual, Mr. Ware’s style is a model of compression in both word and picture. Less usual, for the genre as a whole, is the vividness with which he limns his heroine’s intense, if fairly ordinary, inner life, and also the brilliant way he avoids the visual relentlessness that can plague graphic novels.

He accomplishes this last feat by spreading his story over “14 distinctively discrete books, booklets, magazines, newspapers and pamphlets,” as the text on the illustrated box they come in puts it. Varying considerably in size, length and design, these entities offer no clues about sequence. The reader is left to piece together a multistrand narrative whose characters also include other residents of the Chicago brownstone in which the woman lives — an unhappily unmarried couple and the spinster landlady — as well as the building itself. The lack of clear structure, much less traditional linearity, turns reading into an unusually active process. This is a great, easily ownable work of art.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times