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House of JavaReview - House of Java
Volume 2
by Mark Murphy
NBM Publishing, 2002
Review by Christian Perring
Sep 17th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 38)

Mark Murphy’s House of Java Volume 2 is a collection of short stories in black and white comic book format.  Murphy draws with economy using strong lines.  His stories mostly feature people in their twenties and thirties, the sort that sit around coffee houses on a regular basis.  Murphy’s work is impressive, capturing awkward or poignant moments in his characters’ lives.

“May 27th” is about the interaction between Connie, a social worker intern, and her first client, Ray Bennett.  Ray is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell.  Connie is young and ambitious, getting her degree while working as a waitress to pay her bills.  Ray seems to lack any ambition except to get by and get high.  Connie helps him get into a program which enables him to avoid being put in jail before his trial date and instead to live at home, with his girlfriend, on the condition that he enters into counseling with her and he works twenty-five hours a week in a work program.  Despite this opportunity, Ray is ungrateful and unenthusiastic about his dish-washing job.  Connie, who works hard and sacrifices her social life for her plans to devote herself to helping others, is frustrated by Ray’s attitude.  It’s clear by the end that she has lost patience with Ray, and Ray seems likely to do some significant jail time.  Their counseling didn’t make much difference to him, and their time together seems like a missed opportunity.  But maybe the differences between them were too great to establish real communication.

There are similar themes in two other stories, “Tide Pools” and “Steven,” in which people from different backgrounds get to know each other through a somewhat random meeting and then move out of each other’s lives.  These interactions lead the characters to reflect on their lives and the choices they have made, and wonder whether they are deceiving themselves about their plans and justifications for their decisions.  It’s a powerful narrative form, although Murphy risks using it a little too much.

But the three other stories in the collection are rather different.  “The Paper Route,” which appears to be a short series of two stories, is about a young boy, Nathan, who lives in Wichita Falls.  His friend Perry, who is a little older than Nathan, is a big fan of heavy rock bands like Kiss, Aerosmith and Styx.  The two stories about small town life show how Nathan’s character forms in reaction to other people’s attitudes.  They are nicely told, and are drawn in a rather livelier and fun style from the other works in this collection. 

The final piece is “Burial,” is the darkest in the book.  It tells the story of twenty-five year old Jason; his current relationship has just fallen apart and he returning home after seven years for the wedding of his old friend Karen.  Jason and his old group sit around the coffee house talking about the past.  Jason and Karen tell the story of a hasty nighttime burial they saw years ago, and as a result, the group goes and starts digging up the past.  This leads to a mystery that Jason is intent on solving, but when he finally discovers the truth, he is shocked and disturbed.  I found this story less successful than the others in this collection, maybe because it tries to bear more emotional weight and ends up being a little melodramatic. 

            The obvious comparisons to make are with Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes, both of whom also stylishly depict the alienation of young people and the fragmentation of meaning in modern culture.  Murphy’s approach doesn’t quite achieve the aesthetic purity of Tomine and Clowes – his work is less stylized and more rooted in everyday experience.  Nevertheless, House of Java Volume 2 is a strong piece of work and shows Murphy is among the best graphic storytellers working today.

 

Link: NBM Publishing

© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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