Back of the Line, The: By Jeff Parker, Illustrated By William Powhida, 72 pgs. By Kurt

Sep 26, 2007

I feel like I’ve been visited by the ghost of Douglas Coupland. Except Douglas Coupland isn’t dead. Author Jeff Parker has caught a hold of Coupland’s sense of existential aimlessness and the questioning of the minutiae of our life events. The Back of the Line follows the main character, James, through four tales that all connect back to one another. The narrator is nameless, much like in Fight Club, and provides an alternate take on the events as they occur. Sometimes they find themselves to be contradictory views of one another, other times one character’s view helps to extrapolate upon the other.

The book was designed to look like a handwritten journal with lined pages and doodling on the front and back covers. Inside, the book is filled with pictures from artist William Powhida, many of which help to extrapolate upon the ideas and experiences the characters are experiencing. The drawings are fairly simple and sparing, but it’s not so much the fault of Powhida as it is the material to which he’s bound. It’s clear that the talent is there and instead the medium is a display of his artistry being held back. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to see the random assortment of folks who James and the narrator come across. It’s also funny to see the way the phrases associated with them, written underneath their portrait, reduce each person to their own little quip. When taken out of context it is even funnier.

The tales are nothing spectacular; they follow the two characters around their lives: at a Laundromat, in their apartment, and drinking. Despite the routine aspects of many of these stories, there always seems to be a part that is magical and almost surreal, whether it’s a bird coming back from the dead or the ex-girlfriend who has placed a sign in her window advertising a need for a new boyfriend. It is very hard to describe most of these stories and the book as a whole without continually referring back to authors such as Douglas Coupland or Chuck Palahniuk. It doesn’t mean, though, that Parker’s words can’t stand on their own. They definitely belong in the same camp, but Parker is quite capable of keeping the reader engrossed and curious. The artwork is a nice addition and together they make this book a success. Due to its short length, it can easily be read in a single sitting. That causes me to wonder why the book company wants to charge twenty-five dollars for it. That seems ridiculously pricey and perhaps it has something to do with the limited run of 1,000 or that they look at this as “art” as opposed to just a book. I can’t say that this is worth the price, but if you come across it somewhere, it’s definitely worth a read. –Kurt Morris (Decode, Inc., 625 First Ave., Suite 300, Seattle, WA 98104)