My rating: 3 of 5 stars
2.5 instead of 3. I picked this compact little graphic novel up because the artwork was surreal & captivating. Unfortunately, that really is the only thing to recommend here. House of Clay follows Josephine, a girl from a formerly wealthy family, who goes to work in a garment factory. She’s determined to go to nursing school despite the fact that she can’t handle the sight of blood. While working at the factory, she meets Edith, a former prostitute who’s missing a tongue & has a mysterious past. She also eventually crosses paths with an older woman who offers to tell her future & hints that there may by a different life waiting for her.
As I was reading, I could easily imagine the story as fodder for Mary Caponegro’s or George Saunders’ fantastical imaginings. It’s a coming-of-age tale layered in fairy tale & Romanticism with a healthy dose of postmodern sensibility–a perfect playground for current fabulists & experimental writers. The problem here though is that Nowak isn’t able to get her art to deepen the story details she provides or mesh with the atmosphere she’s suggesting. There are still plenty of questions as to Josephine’s motivation, why she seemingly falls in love with someone she’s barely spoken to, or what exactly her history with her parents is.
I’m reminded here of Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout. Both are clearly beloved projects by their creators, but they both still seem very personal and doesn’t give other readers a good way into the crux of the story. As I mentioned, the art is very beautiful–dreamlike, playful, luxurious & feminine with good harmony of design & space. Feel free to pick it up to browse through if you’re curious, but don’t expect much past your enjoyment of the visuals.