Mister Wonderful

Daniel Clowes takes us on a tragi-comic blind date, with an awkward couple hoping to make a new start after divorce and disappointment

Hot on the heels of Wilson comes another book by the suddenly apparently prolific Daniel Clowes. This short book, presented in a landscape format, features strips originally serialised in the New York Times. However, it holds together as a short novel nicely, and some material has been retrospectively added to make it more book-like.

It’s about a blind date between two socially awkward and typically Clowesian characters. Marshall divorced several years ago and has seen little romantic action since. Lonely and recently unemployed, he’s spectacularly inward looking, drifting off and listening to internal voices when he should undoubtedly be listening to the people around him. Stylistically this is handled wonderfully, with other characters’ speech bubbles either obscured by his own narrative blocks, or drifting out of the panels like inconsequential clouds of verbiage.

Natalie is almost as bad. While Marshall can’t initially believe his luck on the basis that she isn’t hideous, she’s carrying a cargo-hold full of extra baggage. Not least of which is that her long term ex-boyfriend unceremoniously dumped her when she announced that all she really wanted was a baby.

Both characters struggle to get past their awkwardness, but a series of incidents on and around the date start to introduce us to the characters’ background. We never get quite as far into the head of Natalie as we do with Marshall, thanks to his internalising, despite the fact that she’s better at talking about herself.

They’re both more likeable than some of Clowes’s recent creations, thinking about Wilson in particular. You side with the two as they embark on their socially inept journey. Marshall has barely-romantic visions of the two of them eating a picnic of bagels and sharing the Sunday newspapers. Natalie sees herself finally getting the baby she always wanted. And the book is permeated with a general upswell of positive feeling.

This generally positive but still awkward sense of things becoming brighter that marks this romantic comedy of errors as slightly different to Clowes’s previous stories, perhaps a bit more like Ghost World than his more recent work. While the focus remains on the problems this relationship is going to face, the usual disasters are generally solved with blossoming wit and good humour. Even Marshall’s anger-management issues are focused in honourable directions.

It’s a charming little book and a wonderful fly-on-the-wall examination of middle-aged post-divorce dating. The romanticism is necessarily pushed to one side as these two lonely people, trying to find a path through a world that doesn’t seem to have been designed for them, go through the reluctant motions required to improve their lot through companionship and, who knows, maybe even love.

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