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Same Old Tomine, Which Is Always a Good Thing

Wednesday, October 24, 2007
by

Shortcomings

Adrian Tomine

It never ceases to amaze me just how dead-on Adrian Tomine gets with his stories. Whether he’s aware of it or not, he’s probably the most honest and open voice currently chronicling the escapades of that vast swath of Young Men-dom that could generously be labeled as ‘geeks,’ or, more acerbically, as 30-year-old-20-year-olds. He doesn’t shoot for anything big, but what he does aim for he hits and blows apart and you’re left both laughing and commiserating at the characters, at him, and at yourself, because he’s also one of the few authors you read where all of those things feel completely intertwined.

You know these guys — they’re everywhere. 30 year-old, unmarried men who are still obsessed with the latest bands, who still dissect the ins-and-outs of the Star Wars hexology, who still read comic books and use their taste in movies as a social barometer — you know, guys like me. Although, I’m not as critical of others as some people in this category (namely, the protagonist of Shortcomings, Ben Tanaka), though I may used to have been, which is why I can completely sympathize with and also laugh at Tanaka as he stumbles his way through and then screws up that most difficult of situations for generally unfulfilled people — getting what you want.

And by ‘getting what you want,’ of course I’m referring to sex. Tomine’s one of the few artists who will admit that most all of the decisions we make somehow revolve around sex or the lack thereof in our lives; he’s also one of the few writers who will shine a light on the small things that we do in the dark but never tell anyone about. In the story ‘Hawaiian Getaway’ from his last Optic Nerve collection Summer Blonde, there’s a scene where the main character hears her roommate having sex with his girlfriend, so she sneaks up to his door and masturbates along with them. This is something which hardly anyone would ever admit to doing, but the opportunity for it is so common — whether with parents, or neighbours etc. — I’m willing to bet most people have done something like this at some point in their lives; Tomine will actually admit to it, though by hiding behind his characters. And even though we were taught in university English classes that you have to divorce the author from his/her work, Tomine’s feel too much like memoirs anyway to be able to do that. So if I’m extrapolating something that isn’t there, I’m sorry Mr. Tomine, but I think it’s a tribute to how specific and honest the writing is.

Shortcomings is of course no exception. Here we have Ben Tanaka, a 30 year-old Japanese-American movie-snob and theatre manager who is overly-critical of his Japanese-American girlfriend and anything which is labeled ‘Asian-American’ because the only thing he sees in the term ‘Asian-American’ is that which is keeping him from being able to date a Caucasian girl. He grew up on the west coast and so his definition of beauty is California Blonde, and it’s hilarious how he spends a third of the book denying it up and down to his Asian acquaintances, and another third actively pursuing a California Blonde when his girlfriend goes out of town. The last third, of course, has him winding up with nothing because of his negativity and insecurity about the validity of stereotypes; besides, it just wouldn’t be a Tomine story with a happy ending. But you still feel for Tanaka, despite all this, because he is so familiar, and that again comes back to Tomine’s brutal honesty. There’s a quote from somewhere, “He who writes about himself writes of the world entire;” it feels like that’s exactly what Tomine is doing. He rightly gets compared to Raymond Carver, but there’s a little bit of Woody Allen in there somewhere too — although in Tomine’s case his nebbish characters mostly go downhill instead of managing to charm Diane Keaton into bed, and when they do land the girl they inevitably don’t really know how to proceed.

It took Tomine three years to write the three issues of Optic Nerve which became this book — one hopes it’s because the ‘Sarah Brennan’ in the dedication and acknowledgments is the California Blonde he’s been looking for, and he just got too happy to be able to write about a basically depressive character, or maybe she isn’t and it took him that long because he was massively depressed himself. Either way, one wonders where he’s going from here. 03971semaj

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. terrific permalink
    Sunday, November 25, 2007 12:53 pm

    Finally found it! The spelling error shows up under the widget “Archived entry”.

  2. James17930 permalink
    Sunday, November 25, 2007 10:26 pm

    It’s ‘pinging,’ as in, ‘to ping,’ which is an internet term. It has nothing to do with pinyin.

  3. terrific permalink
    Tuesday, November 27, 2007 1:11 pm

    What is the meaning of the verb ‘to ping’, teacher James?

  4. terrific permalink
    Tuesday, November 27, 2007 1:14 pm

    nvm, the definition on wiki sounds way too difficult to explain. I guess this won’t be going in the book.

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