Not quite a novel, this narrative art project comes in a colorful keepsake box in which readers receive a variety of reading materials that can be arranged in various ways to learn about the lives of tenants in an apartment building in Chicago, with a special focus on one nameless woman.
Ware lets his readers follow the gnarled paths memory takes as it builds and rebuilds stories ... Ware has an extraordinary command of time and pacing: one bravura page depicts the florist and her husband dealing with her father’s decline over several months, every panel a perfectly composed little square ... Every visual observation of bodies or nature is ruthlessly adjusted to the level of symbol, rendered in a minimal number of hard, perfectly even, perfectly straight or curved lines. Elaborate strings of micro-panels explode scenes’ components outward through time or through a character’s thought patterns; mandala-ish page compositions arrange associative chains of text and pictures around a central image ... Ware is remarkably deft at balancing the demands of fine art, where sentimentality is an error, and those of storytelling, where emotion is everything. He rejects the possibility of showing his hand in his (notably handmade) artwork, but that watertight visual surface lets him get away with vast billows of existential torment ... it’s also slow, demanding and melancholy. Ware has earned the right to make demands of his readers, though.
It's impossible to overstate how meticulously his work hangs together: the symmetries on a single page; the motifs that worm through it; the multiple counterpointed stories ... through this almost diagrammatic style, he manages to achieve something like documentary realism ... These panels are crammed with everyday truth ... he is so attuned to the possibilities of the medium, so completely in control of what he's doing, that he finds expressive potential in it that you simply couldn't have anticipated ...
There's nobody else doing anything in this medium that remotely approaches Ware for originality, plangency, complexity and exactitude. Astonishment is an entirely appropriate response.
Ware fills his pages with meticulous architectural detail and diagrammatic flourishes, producing what amount to cross-sections of sadness, floor plans of the broken heart ... The medium allows us to adopt a perspective that is not merely omniscient but truly godlike: Ware's characters remain trapped in their tiny panels, but we are above them, looking in, and can see what they can't—the travails that await them—with a simple flick of our eyes across the page ... It's not subtle, but it is ruthlessly effective, and...it gets at something essential and truthful about our tendency to self-obsess ... [a] precise, colorful, intricate and ultimately beautiful book[.]