This May, we've been reading Will Eisner's The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue. This online book discussion is in conjunction with Reader's Den and NYC Summer.
Here is a schedule of what we have covered so far, but please feel free to revisit and comment on any of these earlier posts as well:
Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: A Contract With God (p. 3-180)
Week 3: A Life Force (p. 181-322)
Week 4: Dropsie Avenue (p. 323-498)
We started our discussion with Eisner's 1978 classic A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories. This week, we will be taking a look at A Life Force, which was originally published by Kitchen Sink Press in 1988 and consists of eleven short, intertwined stories of varying lengths.
In "Drawing Contracts: Will Eisner's Legacy," Laurence Roth argues that A Life Force is even more successful than A Contract With God in illustrating the way in which "Eisner contributed to the deepening of comics characters and narratives by making public and private memory—of the Depression, of Jewish acculturation, of the Bronx—a subject of his stories because it is the indispensable predicate for survival" (p. 468).
The intermingling of objective and subjective narratives is evident from the very first pages of the book, which quote Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address; and as Roth notes, the original version of the book ommitted the frontispiece and full-page illustration of cockroaches, striking "a grittier and truer note for the overture to Eisner’s historical fiction" (p. 470).
I enjoyed the way in which A Life Force presents stereotypes and caricatures throughout the story, only to subvert them either through the microspic details of an individual life or through the dark sense of irony also present in A Contract With God. Elton and Rebecca's forbidden romance seems less and less cliched in the shadow of her father Jacob's confusion between his wife Rifka and his boyhood romance Frieda. Similarly, the subplot involving The Blackhand leads to both the most comical scene halfway through the book as well as its climactic, potboiler-like conclusion.
Some discussion questions:
- Did you find A Life Force similar to A Contract With God in terms of tone and structure?
- How would you define the "life force" which is referenced throughout the book?
- In what ways does Eisner address memory as the subject of his story?