July 2007

John Zuarino

nonfiction

The Three Paradoxes by Paul Hornschemeier

The main thing I remember from Mother, Come Home is Paul Hornschemeier's ability to wrench your insides with the mere crease of an eye in one of his characters. The little blonde boy would remove his plastic lion mask, his shield for a tragic reality, and look up at his father or the sympathetic nurse and squint his little blue eyes. Not being the best choice as a casual subway read, the book made me want to claw at my chest like the middle-aged Jewish Mike Meyers character from Saturday Night Live while other passengers talked amongst themselves.

Not so much the case with Hornschemeier's new book, The Three Paradoxes. While Hornschemeier's trademark coloring and facial features evoke the anticipation for a similar reading, this time around the tragic is keenly balanced with the comic for a less weighty response.

But does less weight imply superficiality? Hardly: if Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium left any lasting positive mark on the literati, it was the inherent defining of weightiness in literature through the opening essay on lightness. Recalling Boccaccio's image of Guido Cavalcanti leaping over a tombstone to save his life, Calvino comments, "Were I to choose an auspicious image for the new millennium, I would choose that one: the sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times -- noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring -- belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty old cars." Take a heavy image like death, or, in Hornschemeier's case, a fucked up childhood experience and its affect on the present, and juxtapose it with a light escape or a simple change in lens and voila: Calvino babble!

The main narrative, where Paul strolls with his father, is interrupted by four others: Paul's living doodle (light), the newsprint funny page childhood memory (oh, the weight!), a boy's accident told in vintage style (scarring, really), and, in said vintage style, Zeno's speech on his three paradoxes to an audience of unreceptive philosophers ("Man, no offense, but are you guys retarded?" So asks Socrates). While three of five set a tone closely related to that of Mother, Come Home, the others allow room for distraction which keeps the weighty in check. In other words, I felt no need to rip out my heart and bloody a subway car en route to a job interview where chances are I would probably want a lion mask of my own that I could hide behind.

But then again, Calvino eventually proved himself self-referential and contradictory throughout his Memos, much like Zeno in his argument against the notion of change. Calvino died before he ever gave his speech on consistency, but perhaps we can start to see what he might have meant through The Three Paradoxes. Despite the impression given by the book's title, Hornschemeier is consistent in creating the perfect balance between light and weight. Just take a look at the light little boy in his bubblejet slacks, falling hard under a big bully's fist, and tell me that doesn't scream Cavalcanti.

The Three Paradoxes by Paul Hornschemeier
Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 9781560976530
80 Pages