Scott J. Grunewald
By Matt Madden
Published by Highwater Books
Reality takes a backseat to narrative in Matt Madden's newest surreal slice of life drama, ODDS OFF.
It's not easy to be surreal. So many times I've seen a writer attempt it and come off as silly or just plain unreadable. Surreality is easiest in comedy of course; from the anvil to the head to the painted hole in the ground, it's easier to ignore the rules of reality when it's the punch line of a joke. But asking readers to expand their perceptions of reality within a slice of life drama takes significantly more skill. Especially when the author is trying to connect to his readers with themes as universal as love, desire, and obsession.
ODDS OFF starts simply enough. We follow Morgan and Shirin, a long time couple nearing the end of their college careers and Lance, a writer who's growing obsession with Morgan intensifies a strange form of writers block. As Morgan and Shirin's relationship begins to fall apart slowly, Lance starts to lose his grip on both reality and his ability to write.
But slowly Madden starts to stretch the basic set up in small and seemingly insignificant ways. A television program that teaches French becomes a metaphor for getting lost in the fantasy and not paying attention to the reality around you. A strange, and sickly funny form of writers block becomes a writers realization that up until this point he's done everything everyone's else’s way (So much so that his writing is 'infected' with it) and now he has to strike out on his own in order to preserve his sanity.
However, well placed narrative tricks aside, it's the complete and well-rounded nature of Madden's characters that draw me into the book so quickly. I suffer as Morgan tries desperately to hold together a loving, but ultimately doomed relationship. I cringe as Lance humiliates himself in front of the object of his increasing desire. And I'm wounded by the casual and passive aggressive bigotry that surrounds Shirin and her inability to share those feelings with the man she loves.
Early into the story, there's a moment when the books star, Morgan, hung over from a New Years Eve party, asks Shirin to see a movie with him later in the day. Shirin turns him down, saying that she's studying, but meaning that she's still upset that he didn't leave the party when she did. Morgan doesn't argue, he doesn't get upset, he just smiles. Not out of sarcasm or because he knows that she'll end up going with him, but somehow I sense (I feel? So much of this graphic novel leaves interpretations up to the reader and avoids spelling itself out to you), simply because he's basking in the afterglow of a fun party. His smile is infectious. I've fallen for him as deeply as Shirin has. ODDS OFF is full of small moments like this. Moments that seem small and insignificant but end up meaning the most to you after you've finished reading.
I've found while writing this review that ODDS OFF is a hard book to talk about simply because it is entirely subjective. It's full of subtext that may or may not have been intentional, and it stars a hand full of characters so well rounded that two separate people couldn't possibly relate to them the same way. Even reading it more than once in different moods will reveal something new and different. The book is very much an experience that isn't going to engage everyone much less yourself in the same way each time it's read. And it's that subtext and unpredictability that makes ODDS OFF such a special book.
Scott J. Grunewald is the Publisher of PopImage.
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PopImage: Matt Madden Interview from Oct. 2001
PopImage: PopPreview: ODDS OFF
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