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June 7-13, 2006

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'Good-bye Chunky Rice'

Good-Bye Chunky Rice
REVIEW (By Craig Thompson; Pantheon; 126 pages; $12.95 cloth)
—Richard von Busack

How Craig Thompson gets away with something this cute is a real puzzle, but the grit of real emotion is always part of his tale for aging children. Thompson's Harvey Award-winning story might be a mash-up of Edward Lear and Walt Kelly. In this case, the lovers (or dear friends who happen to share a bed) aren't an owl and a pussycat. Instead, they are a wide-eyed turtle named Chunky Rice and a yearning mouse-deer called Dandel. The turtle, struck by wanderlust, heads to sea on a ship full of peculiar sailors. The mouse-deer stays behind and grooms the harborside alleys of discarded bottles to enclose messages of love to her far-off friend. And you may well think, here is where constant weader thowed up. Dorothy Parker, whose review of Winnie the Pooh I just stole, was famously soppy about one thing: her dogs. Thompson crosscuts from Chunky Rice's odd odyssey to an even sadder story of interspecies love, with the tale of a land-lubbing sailor named Solomon and his pet finch Merle. The sailor is haunted by the dog he lost in childhood, and the sense that everything he loves will fly away one day. If Thompson weren't such a greatly talented and sensitive cartoonist, this book would crumble like a sugar castle. But Good-Bye Chunky Rice is the kind of work perfect for the graphic novel form, where whimsy and harshness and the moments without names can all co-exist; it proves the new kind of narrative's uniqueness.


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