We naturally recall other readings when we come across something similar, and one would think that these two books are just about opposites but then, there’s much that’s relative to both.
In Perfect Example, John Porcellino portrays his own adolescence in a short graphic novel that focuses on his difficulty in understanding the transition from child to adult. Miller’s Tropic of Cancer’s narrator is older, but does as well have many of the same questions about life as Porcellino’s character. What’s interesting, is the way each puts into words–and in Porcellino’s case, graphic images–their wonderings and insights.
Here’s some from Miller:
In that sort of half-reverie which permits one to participate in an event and yet remain quite aloof, the little detail which was lacking began obscurely but insistently to coagulate, to assume a freakish, crystalline form, like the frost which gathers on the windowpane. And like those frost patterns which seem to bizarre, so utterly free and fantastic in design, but which are nevertheless determined by the most rigid laws, so this sensation which commenced to take form inside me seemed also to be giving obedience to ineluctable laws. My whole being was responding to the dictates of an ambiance which it had never before experienced; that which I could call myself seemed to be contracting, condensing, shrinking from the stale, customary boundaries of the flesh whose perimeter knew only the modulations of the nerve ends. (p. 95)
And here’s Porcellino:
And somehow we ended up at the place where he worked. So I went inside. I was wandering back and forth–the faces of people and things around me; there were lights–but I didn’t see them. Sounds–but I didn’t hear them. Because I saw then that life is like a dream. (The Fourth of July)
Porcellino’s words are enhanced by images: The faces of the people are disembodied, in many panels, John is tiny in comparison to the expanse of world around him. In this particular scene, John floats alone towards a star, the people gone from his world. In the final panel, even John does not exist in a world where a crescent moon and single star float about the ocean waves.
Miller’s character feels he sees everything with crystal clarity, in contrast to John’s image of life as a dream:
And the more substantial, the more solid the core of me became, the more delicate and extravagant appeared the close, palpable reality out of which I was being squeezed. In the measure that I became more and more metallic, in the same measure the scene before my eyes became inflated. The state of tension was so finely drawn now that the introduction of a single foreign particle, even a microscopic particle, as I say, would have shattered everything.
Miller’s character is a writer, therefore with more of a tendency to provide the imagery that Porcellino creates with his drawings, thus allowing the text to be of a simpler and yet no less dramatic form.