Friday, 19 July 2013

Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart review

Alex Mackay visits his grandpa at a nursing home only to discover he’s been dead for over a month! He begins looking through his grandpa’s leftover belongings and chances upon a photo of the old fella with a mysterious blonde wearing shades. As Alex looks deeper into the identity of the lady and what her relationship to his grandpa was, his journey will take him down a very twisty rabbit hole and possibly even another dimension – but will he survive?

I was looking forward to Cameron Stewart’s Sin Titulo as I love his art from books like Jason Aaron’s The Other Side and Grant Morrison’s Batman, but was apprehensive as great artists rarely make great writers. Such is the case with Sin Titulo except it’s not badly written, it’s just that the storytelling is so scattershot that it makes reading this a flummoxing experience and I think it’s because Stewart’s not a good enough writer (yet) to make all the pieces fit in a way that works best.

Stewart keeps things lively by chucking in lots of David Lynchian quirks to the plot as Alex follows a repulsive male nurse from his grandpa’s nursing home to discover a strange building filled with rooms in which are a telephone and monitor upon which the mysterious blonde lady with shades appears. The story is peppered with flashbacks from Alex’s childhood (many of which Stewart says are autobiographical) as he recalls his parents fighting the night he injures himself falling down the stairs only for his abusive father to take his frustration out on his alcoholic grandpa who’s dozing nearby. Other memories include a childhood nightmare monster hiding behind the furniture and the time an older woman in the office he worked in propositioned him during an office party.

The haunting image of the idyllic empty beach where stands a lone tree repeats through the text as Alex meets other characters who are also familiar with the scene despite it appearing only in his dreams. Other odd images like the blindfolded butler, the blackouts, the coincidence following coincidence, the character who explodes for no reason(!), and the warping between realities all make Sin Titulo an interesting read but frustratingly hard to get a handle on. So many storylines never go anywhere and moments in the plot make no sense, like Alex – injured- leaps out of a four storey window and lands in a bush unharmed only to coincidentally meet a man who turns out to be the husband of the mysterious blonde woman and relentlessly draws the beach and tree scene.

The problem with setting up so many bizarre plot threads and characters reveals itself when Stewart tries to explain some of them in an effort to tie the story together into something cohesive and meaningful. He does this via a character similar to the Architect at the end of the Matrix Reloaded where one of the last scenes in the book is just an extra-long speech where Alex asks a question and receives a long-winded explanation. The final part of the book is unbearably overburdened with exposition while the final page itself is anticlimactic and forgettable.

The book reminded me of the kind of stuff Charles Burns is doing at the moment with his X’Ed Out series which are weird and wonderful books that make a chaotic kind of sense. The reason I don’t feel the same way about Stewart’s book is that there are simply too many plot holes that make me think that Stewart lost his grip on the story at some point and couldn’t quite recover it after. It’s not that I didn’t understand the story entirely – the “life is what you make it” line at the end pretty much sums it up - but I think if one were to study the book more deeply, that it wouldn’t make much sense purely because so much is unexplained to the point that entire sequences don’t add up. Couple that with the depressing story filled with miserable, angry people and the unimpressive conclusion, none of which make the prospect of repeat readings necessary to figure out if there are deeper meanings, and Sin Titulo becomes much less than the sum of its parts.

I’d say it’s worth a look if only for the great art and sense of mystery as the bizarre plot unfolds, just don’t expect to come away understanding much – if not all – of what transpired. Sin Titulo is interesting at times but is overall an unsatisfying and obtuse read.

Sin Titulo

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