Book Review: The River at Night

In Kevin Huizenga's graphic novel, one man's speeding mind breaks time

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 BCE said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”

Glenn Ganges, the river-named protagonist of many of Kevin Huizenga’s graphic novels steps again and again into the river of time and sleeps (or tries in vain to sleep) through the river of dreams.

And so the author transports him (and the fortunate reader) through this new sequential-art meditation on time and, let’s also say, life and how to live it.

Huizenga’s simple, cartoony lines establish a relatable space – a generic but solid sense of suburban place – to ease a reader into the complex and often churning headroom of this young Ganges as he strolls his neighborhood, visits the library, pores through books on geology and philosophy, works on creating (and works at playing) videogames, listens to music with his wife Wendy, and battles an insomnia that’s often more of a Big Bad than any Marveled-up Thanos could ever hope to be.

(I mean, since we’re talking about comics here, you know?)

This – the inside of Glenn Ganges’ head – is familiar territory, I’ll reckon, for any thinking human. That’s true because all of us are similar, on some level; but it’s also true that each of us is different on other levels; which is why this well-paneled journey into The River at Night is such a compelling one. Huizenga (and thus Ganges) considers the world from perspectives, and via sources, that we might not have encountered before, that we might have only glimpsed in passing and not investigated as deeply as this narrative does. And, boy howdy, does that reward a hungry mind. But comics are a visual medium, and so the mind’s eyes are further rewarded by Huizenga’s graphic evocations of his hero’s internal states: The way time will shift in jump-cuts or blurrings between (or even within) panels, the way the very forms of drawn communication are abstracted and used as a method of amplifying that communication toward character/reader empathy.

(Ganges’ work in designing videogames adds another delightful layer to this baklava of bandes-dessineés détournement, as Huizenga brings those distinct – and appropriately dreamlike – visuals into several pages’ worth of play.)

A work like this (read: heady, sublime), I feel like I’m doing the thing that supposedly Zappa cracked about music criticism: I feel like I’m dancing about architecture. And that a person – you, reader, parsing this commentary – would be much better off just enjoying and being enriched by this latest multipartite memory palace that Kevin Huizenga’s built in his well-mastered medium: It’s very worth entering again and again.

The River at Night

by Kevin Huizenga
Drawn & Quarterly, 216pp., $34.95

Kevin Huizenga will appear with authors Sarah Rose Etter (The Book of X) and Kristen Arnett (Mostly Dead Things) in the Texas Book Festival session "All By Myself: Loneliness in Fiction" on Sat., Oct. 26, 1pm, in Capitol Ext. Rm. E2.016. For more information, visit www.texasbookfestival.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Texas Book Festival 2019, graphic novels, Kevin Huizenga

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