Goodbye, Chunky Rice

Posted: Friday, May 12
By: Mike Yates
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The world that Craig Thompson presents in his deeply affecting debut, Goodbye, Chunky Rice, is a weird echo of the one we know, like a recognizable piece of music played at an unusual key. A car drives by looking like a cross between a VW Bug and a Moped, characters speak in an odd grammar, and everything seems slightly out of proportion and containing a few more curves than it ought to. It has a dreamlike feel, and the plot that is acted out in it has the immediacy of a dream’s occurances. Someone leaves the place they have lived, the partner they have loved, and sets out on a journey into the unknown. In this case, the someone is Chunky Rice, a turtle, and his partner is Dandel, a mouse. Chunky has decided to leave, and books passage on a ship headed for the Kalohooney Islands, while, back on shore, Dandel tries to find ways to deal with his departure.

While he may be a turtle, this is never an issue, even as they are the only animals (besides pets, which do play a large role) in this human world. Its effect is one of masking, as Chunky is the, well, everyturtle, drawn with clean lines standing out against the messy, disporportionate humans. When asked why he wants to leave, Chunky response by saying, “I don’t know,” and this lack of motive furthers his feel as a universal character. While Chunky’s quest is the core of the work, Thompson extends the narrative to focus in on a large group of supporting characters, which include a pair of estranged brothers, bickering siamese twins, and a pet bird named Merle. This wandering focus makes the book not quite a story, per se, but a series of permutations of themes, like a piece of poetry or musical composition. While Chunky is throwing himself into his future in rushing off to see the world, these characters are haunted by their past or trapped in their present, trying to find someway to redeem their mistakes and live with the hand they have been dealt. Just as these characters feel the pull of their past, Chunky can not forget what he has left behind on the shore, and it is this bind that Thompson examines which gives the book its formidable power. Chunky misses the bond that people create and share together, while still feeling the desire to fling oneself into the unknown, where exilhiration, and doom, is ever solitary.

Working with a fairly straightforward plot, Thompson tells his story in a complex, fractured manner. Taking place over the course of about four days, the story jumps back and forth in time, often achieving remarkable results in its juxtapositions of events. Thompson seamlessly moves between the past and present, often finding himself in flashbacks eludicating the supporting characters. Innovative devices are used throughout, including a flashback within a flashback appearing as a page in a comic, or a head drawn within a word balloon to speak for themselves as they are quoted by someone else. Thomspon’s drawing style is a thing of beauty, with expressive faces and stunning images, and even the onomonopeia is drawn and placed on the page with care, as sounds vividly snake along the page. This book is unimaginable in color, as the black and white in Thompson’s cross-hatching and linework achieves a texture that results in wonderous effects, most notably in his rendering of the book’s central image, the sea.

In some alternate universe, Goodbye, Chunky Rice is the cliché book to give graduating seniors or anyone going off to something new, but in this one, it unfortunately may never take that rightful place. Rather than reassuring us of all the places we’ll go, the book shows us all the people and places we take with us on our journeys. The final word is given to the people left behind, awaiting the return of all of those they have sent off to sea, and with its final haunting phrase, the book hits with all the force of the waves so omni-present throughout. Goodbye, Chunky Rice is stellar, an unforgettable book to savor and embrace.

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