Saturday, February 14, 2009

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON



By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer


REVIEW
I suppose most folks will have Brad Pitt in their heads when the words "Benjamin Button" are read, but the graphic novel interpretation of the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald is more true to the original and allows much of Fitzgerald's satirical look at the Golden Age of the United States filter through with unexpected charm. The adaptation of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir (with illustrations by Kevin Cornell) comes out just in time to ride the coat-tails of the big budget movie, so I approached it a bit cynically. But how can one resist the cover, which shows the newborn Benjamin Button in a crib holding a rattle but with a long white beard and a set of weary eyes looking out into the world?

If you don't know, the story tells how Button was born old and then got younger as he aged (the premise, we learn in an Afterward here, came from something that Fitzgerald had read of Mark Twain – so inspiration is everywhere). The book is told in sections, as Benjamin moves across time from the 1860s into the 1920s. It's a story of human connections and also, a critique of the class system of Baltimore. The advantage of a graphic novel is that we can see time turning both ways on the faces and bodies of Benjamin and the people around him. It is an odd story, no doubt, but one worth investigating.


ART REVIEW
Cornell uses a limited palate of colors, giving this book the effect of old photographs. I found it quite remarkable that Benjamin does seem to grow younger before the reader's eyes, sometimes incrementally, from frame to frame. We want to laugh at Benjamin at the start of the story (see cover for example) and yet, there is a sadness associated with Benjamin's situation.

During the middle of the story, when Benjamin is at the height of his power and influence, the artwork glows. At the end of his life, as Benjamin becomes a toddler and then a newborn, the pictures start to fade as the world fades in on the only person who mattered to him: his nanny who fed him. And then, the picture turns dark as Benjamin no longer ... exists.


IN THE CLASSROOM
Certainly, this graphic novel could be a useful companion to the story (Does anyone teach this one, or is The Great Gatsby the only Fitzgerald book that high school readers experience?), and it might be an interesting undertaking to compare the movie version (set more in modern days) and this version of the story. A young writer could use this story of inspiration and write a story from back to front, telling a tale in reverse.


OTHER INFORMATION
• Format: Hardcover
• Pages: 128 pages
• Color: Full color
• Publisher: Quirk Books (October 15, 2008)
• ISBN-10: 1594742812
• ISBN-13: 978-1594742811
• Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.8 x 0.6 inches


MY RECOMMENDATION
I would recommend this for a bookshelf in a high school classroom or library. There is some romance here but nothing inappropriate. I don't think the story would engage middle school readers and it is probably not so appropriate for elementary readers (not for content, per se, but in terms of reader engagement).

3 comments:

Franki said...

This looks like a must-have. I liked the movie and would love to see this interpretation. Thanks for the review and I so appreciate the age level appropriateness info.

Chris Wilson said...

Franki,

Any time.

Chris

Jay said...

This is one of those movies that I could watch over and over and not get sick of. The actors were at their best and the film had me laughing and crying at the same time. I read a review on EverHype (they’re a great new site that lets users hype what they love and hate – check them out at www.everhype.com/?utm_source=bc and add some hypes of your own) that called the movie “Great” and gave it 3.75 stars, and I agree – this movie was great!