Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #5, Winter 2000-2001]


Chris Lanier

There are two nonidentical twins, a man and a woman. In addition to being different sexes, they are of completely different temperaments. She: gregarious and outgoing. He: withdrawn almost to the point of misanthropy. She: very blunt and matter-of-fact. He: allusive and cryptic. The year they turn 25, she gets married; a year later, she becomes pregnant. The week of the conception, her brother's bellybutton uncomfortably swells to twice its normal size.


A man, happily married, fantasizes about making love to a woman other than his wife, while stuck in the morning commute. The fantasy is a pedestrian, even a perfunctory one; he makes a conscious effort not to embellish his fantasies. By restricting them purely to the realm of physical sex, he feels he is being more faithful to his marriage. An attempt at a more elaborate fantasy, with more of a "story," would be, in his opinion, the first step in charting an escape from his fidelity. At the very moment that he reaches the climax of his fantasy, involving a red-haired woman who has just passed him in the carpool lane, his wife, 20 miles away and traveling in the opposite direction, towards her job, brings herself to orgasm on a plastic bus seat, which is vibrating with unusual force.


There is a terrible falling out between two friends. They have an argument on a bridge, after which they will never talk to each other again. One friend is returning five or six records he has borrowed from the other. After the argument is over, the friend who has returned the records leaves. The other stays on the bridge with his records. When his friend is out of sight, he slides the records from their sleeves, one by one, and sails them off the bridge, like frisbees. Three shatter on the same tree, and the pieces of the records hang in the wiry branches like black christmas ornaments. Years later, he reads a book in which there is a scene exactly as this argument transpired: two friends meet on a bridge -- one returns some records to the other -- harsh words are spoken -- the owner of the records, suddenly left alone on the bridge, throws the records over the side. Reading the book, he thinks, at first, that the writer must have observed him and his friend that day, and then used what he had seen for his novel. When he looks at the copyright date of the novel, however, he realizes that this is impossible -- the book was written four years before the argument took place.


A young woman works at a group home for autistic children. The child she is most drawn to is a twelve-year-old boy who is obsessed with electric appliances, particularly digital clocks. He always has four or five of them in his room, bought from the thrift store. Each clock is always set to a different time, and none of them are ever the correct time. Sometimes the boy will sit in his room with the face of the clock pressed up against his eyes, as if he were looking through a pair of binoculars. He will sit that way until one of the numbers changes. The last image of this boy that the young woman takes home with her every night is of him lying in bed, snuggled up to one of the clocks as if it were a teddy bear, its red numerical eyes glowing in the dark. After a few months pass, the young woman finds a more lucrative job. She tells the autistic boy she is going to be leaving the group home, but she can't decipher his expression when she tells him this; he is completely nonverbal. Driving home from her last night of work, she shuts off her car radio because all the news depresses her, and she isn't in the mood to listen to music. When she arrives at her apartment, and opens her bedroom door, she sees that one of the legs of the endtable by her bed has given out, pitching her digital clock onto her pillow.


A woman's son is called to serve in a war overseas. She is a patriotic woman, and proud of her son, whose sense of character and self-worth has improved with his time in the military. Nonetheless, when it is time to see him off, a tear falls from her eye, despite her determination to suppress it. The tear does, however, give her son the opportunity to appear gallant and strong, wiping it from her cheek protectively, in a gesture that reminds her -- almost unbearably so -- of the boy's father, who is long dead. In a moment of strange clarity, she realizes she is risking the loss of two men in this war. After her son has gone, she tries to submerge herself in her daily routine, her work and her household chores. One morning, as she puts on her earrings and bracelet, she feels she can't have metal touching her body. The sensation repulses her. She removes the jewelry, and even her wedding ring, though she knows the other women in the office will notice this. Several weeks later, when she receives the letter, she finds out that this is the morning her son was killed.


A man's daily morning ritual is to pick up his paper, then go to a bakery around the corner from his apartment and skim through it over a cup of coffee and a pastry. Though the bakery has a wide variety of pastries, he always has one of two kinds, either a chocolate donut or a cheese danish. His morning mood can thus be classified through a simple binary code: chocolate donut / cheese danish. Fortified with information, caffeine, and sugar, he feels much better prepared to face his work day. On a chocolate donut morning, though he is not an obituary-reader, he notices his own name on the obituary page. The first thing he thinks -- rather irrationally -- is that it is a joke one of his coworkers has played on him. As he reads the brief description of the deceased under his name, however, he realizes that it is in fact a completely different person, who happened to be born with the same name. The obituary mentions that the deceased had lived in the same city as the man for his entire life. And in fact he now remembers having once looked at his name in the phone book, only to see it doubled. He had entertained the idea of calling his doppelgänger, but quickly dismissed the impulse as childish -- what, after all, would he have to say? After that morning he lost his taste for chocolate donuts, and when he wasn't in the mood for a cheese danish, he would order a bear claw instead.


Chris Lanier is a writer and cartoonist living in San Francisco. His latest graphic novel, Combustion, was published in 1999 by Fantagraphics Books. He currently writes and animates a weekly cartoon on the internet, Romanov, which can be found at

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