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Reviews Tue Jun 28 2011
Paul Hornschemeier's latest outing, Life with Mr. Dangerous, follows the exploits of Amy Breis, a dissatisfied Midwestern twenty-something. Stuck at a crossroads, Amy meanders through life against the backdrop of her favorite rerun-laden television show, "Mr. Dangerous", and her own amusing inner thoughts. She must also endure isolation, boredom, the trials of dating, an unsympathetic boyfriend, a nagging mother and a soul-crushing workplace. In short, Amy is a girl who's got it going on.
Life with Mr. Dangerous bottles the dull, deadpan and, frankly, boring minutiae that fills most of our time on Earth. However, equating this book with boredom isn't even close to what I'm trying to get at. What Hornschemeier does best here is to take those pointless work conversations, droll lunch time exchanges and meaningless dates and turns them into the meat and bones of Amy's story. The result is a compelling look at a startlingly real-life protagonist.
The mundane comings and goings of Amy's life resonated with me so much that I read this entire book in one quick sitting, unable to set it aside. I felt that these everyday situations worked so well because they were conveyed with such earnestness and honesty. While a lesser author may take the easier route by having Amy chafe at her work-a-day lifestyle, playing the lone rebel card or chained tiger role, the fact that Hornschemeier has her take it in stride hammers home her believability. This also has the added benefit that when Amy finally does break away from her comfort zone, the emotional impact is greater because she seemed so resigned to coasting through life.
There are some flourishes in this book that helps balance out the melancholy of Amy's existence, such as quick cartoony interludes or montages to shed some more light on the character's inner demons. Distractions, such as these, work well enough to tease the reader. However, the parallel narrative of Amy's love affair for "Mr. Dangerous" works the best out of all these and is perhaps the most relatable. We've all been there with TV shows we watch again and again, despite the fact we've watched every episode multiple times. It acts as a solid metaphor for Amy's condition and watching her attachment to this show influence her life is an intriguing examination of sedentary lifestyles.
Hornschemeier's artwork reinforces all these themes with his muted, understated way of presenting Amy and her world. He allows himself to dabble with whimsy during some stretches, but he continually returns to the drab, often soul crushing, world of lonely apartments and cookie cutter shopping malls. Often Hornschemeier's artwork sells the story far more than his words, the sign of an accomplished artist who doesn't need to rely on telling the reader anything, but, instead, rightfully showing us what's at stake.
Although dominated by pessimism, Life with Mr. Dangerous has enough of a heart to keep readers' hoping everything will work out for the better. If you're looking for a fast paced story about the romantic trials and tribulations of a confident twenty-six year old woman, this isn't for you. However, if you're more in the market for a slow burning, authentic look at a highly believable everywoman, Life with Mr. Dangerous fits the bill.
Don't forget about the Book Club's upcoming discussion with Paul Hornschemeier this Thursday, June 30th, at The Book Cellar.