by Daniel Clowes
Fantagraphics, 180 pages
reviewed by Amy Victoria Blakemore
There are many reasons to read a book twice. Perhaps the book is complicated—the story reveals itself at the close and demands that we begin again. Maybe the story is so familiar that we read it over and over for the healing powers of its constancy; some books, quite simply, become friends. And of course, there’s the language itself. The words alone could be so fretfully beautiful that they foster our obsessive nature—our need to read them and memorize them and say them out loud (to ourselves and to others).
Patience demands to be read twice: first, as a who-done-it, and second, as a who-are-you. On the surface, Daniel Clowes has written a murder mystery. When newlywed Jack Barlow finds his pregnant wife, Patience, dead in their apartment, he begins an obsessive hunt to identify her killer. He hires a private investigator. He time travels into her past, attempting to understand who could enact such violence. He begins a journey into the wide expanse of what he never knew about his wife—a terrain that expands for years. This is a story about meeting the person you love much later than you’ve started to love them, and that is the energy that propels the reader forward—hunting for Patience’s killer, yes, but digging for something much deeper.
Patience, as a name, possesses a Latin root meaning to suffer. Nothing could be more appropriate for Patience the character, who endures abuse in adolescence and a traumatic silence that follows her throughout her adult life, a hush in which “every little thing seems like a horrible omen”. We find her staring out into a dark bedroom, unable to sleep while her thoughts are so loud. In thought bubbles distinct from Jack’s, we witness those that keep her most awake. Patience’s thoughts are pale yellow—as if growing from her blonde hair.
Clowes’s decision to integrate Patience into the text prevents the work from reducing her to the object of Jack’s furious quest. She is not the end goal; she is not a puzzle waiting to be put together. In fact, the more Jack travels through time to understand her, the more her story shifts; with the addition of his presence, the pieces change.
Amid futuristic concepts, Patience possesses the endearing nostalgia of a Choose Your Own Adventure. We can wander inside of it and contemplate the infinite arrangements of interactions. We can apply the same thought experiment to our own relationships and wander even longer. With Patience, Clowes presents a new tenet of physics: time collapses and expands in proportion to how much we know about one another. It’s an equation we know well—and one we too often forget.
Amy Victoria Blakemore is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, where she served for three years as a writing tutor. She earned honors for her senior thesis on contemporary iterations of Superman in comics and graphic literature, and she also was awarded an Academy of American Poetry Prize. Her work appears in the The Kenyon Review, [PANK], and The Susquehanna Review.