The Year of Loving Dangerouslyby Ted Rall & Pablo G. CallejoNBM, $18.95
For a brief time, in my supposed salad days, I had the alleged good fortune to date two different women at the same time. My friends frequently kidded me about my good luck, but the truth was I was absolutely miserable. Plagued by guilt, constantly shuttling between the two women, desperately trying to remember who was responsible for, say, the flowers left on my car, and knowing that sometime soon I was going to have to break one of their hearts, put an amount of stress on my shoulders that outweighed any supposed benefits. My behavior during that time still ranks as one of my biggest regrets.
Ted Rall doesn't have that problem. In the 1980s he juggled, lied to and slept with numerous women, a fact he chronicles in his latest graphic novel, The Year of Loving Dangerously, without much angst on his part.
To be fair, Rall had some justification for his caddish behavior. To wit: A run of bad health, bad behavior and just plain bad luck that led to him being evicted from his college dorm, fired from his job, dumped by his girlfriend and kicked out of college. Flat broke and too proud to head home, he basically (and surreptitiously) pimped himself out to a variety of single women in exchange for a place to sleep.
Rall is a natural raconteur and his tales of economically-forced debauchery have an engaging, off-the-cuff feel that draws you in almost immediately. His stories have a fascinating "you won't believe what happened to me" aspect to them, and while he attempts at various times to justify his behavior, he's not afraid of letting his younger self seem like a callous jerk in order to serve the story better.
Unfortunately, Rall's various tales don't really gell into a cohesive whole very well. Rall pinballs from one anecdote to the other, and it can be hard at times to figure out what they all have to do with each other. The result is not only in a lack of focus, but also in a sense that some stores are being relayed expressly for bragging rights. Why else reveal that he got backstage passes to a Dead Kennedys concert and knows Jello Biafra? What purpose does that serve to his story beyond attaining some sort of hipster credit?
As entertaining as Rall's stories are they're also maddeningly short on detail at times -- at least the sort of detail that matters. How, exactly did Rall go about finding all these women? It couldn't have all been dumb luck. Was there a method to his madness (he does share details on how he was able to maintain these relationships, and that's some of the best parts of the book). Why was his mother so hostile with him on the phone? Why doesn't she send him some money? Why exactly did his relationship with Kelly fall apart? Rall speeds through some of these stories, omitting answers to questions like these and ultimately not asking hard enough questions about his own behavior (the closest he comes is when he admits that he gets turned off immediately when a woman shows any interest in him).
The art by Callejo varies between solid and sloppy. He adheres to a primarily illustrative, "here's the story" approach, but shows a facile ability with facial expressions and body posture that keep the book from feeling staid. Unfortunately, more than a few panels come off as rough, ill-defined or featuring odd, off-kilter anatomy and should have been redrawn from the get-go.
There's enough good stuff in A Year of Loving Dangerously to keep me from throwing the book into my "library donation" pile, but ultimately the book's pleasures are shallow and temporary -- not too unlike the adventures Rall chronicles.