LAST CALL IN THE CITY OF BRIDGES. Salvatore Pane's debut novel is an exciting first offering from local imprint Braddock Avenue Books. The University of Indianapolis professor's protagonist is Michael Bishop, who on the eve of the 2008 presidential election is 25, working a dead-end cube-critter job as a DVD subtitler (for stuff like Lipstick Jungle) in Pittsburgh. He exercises his creativity on a web comic, and serves as an amusing guide to the lives of irony-drenched millennials. Michael is insightful almost in spite of himself. "We valued apathy," he notes, even while pursuing a new girlfriend and struggling to retain friends similarly clinging to Super Mario Brothers and other comforting tokens of childhood. Movingly, this is a book about overeducated kids marinated in pop culture, seemingly tuned into everything about the world around them but unable to change even their corner of it. Priming for a cathartic night on East Carson Street after his boss suggests his career prospects might improve in Bangladesh, Michael says, "We wanted to get hammered and talk about Hitchcock references on The Simpsons until the polar ice caps melted and drowned us in our collective madness." Yes.
A FILM ABOUT BILLY. Daniel McCloskey's unusual hybrid of a novel and graphic novel is classified by publisher Six Gallery Press as "apocalyptic YA." It's a coming-of-age story with sci-fi conspiracy overtones. The narrator is Collin Heart, a semi-reclusive recent high school grad living with his grandmother in Bloomfield while editing a documentary about a friend who committed suicide … all during a mysterious global suicide epidemic. McCloskey, who founded the Cyberpunk Apocalypse writer's co-op, here offers a world-weary voice, the writing style clean. ("While my pants soaked and froze my ass, I fished a crisp white cigarette from my pack of Douglas Lights and shoved it in my mouth.") The comics panels, meanwhile, tell another aspect of the same story in parallel, with an expressive drawing style that ranges from straightforward if edgy to (a peek at latter pages reveals) forays into horror and the surreal. Futuristic terror and military menace loom (with satiric touches). But from among Collin's countless hours of tape of his dead friend and sad nights in a lonely room, McCloskey constructs a mostly low-keyed thriller about lost innocence, the tenuousness of friendship and the limits of art.
Fifty Pages reviews the first 50 pages of new books.