Driving Short Distances by Joff Winterhart

I love graphic novels but don’t buy then because I can finish them in an hour. I do enjoy finding one I would like to read in the library, though.

This is a story about men, how they talk to each other, what they talk about and how being different is difficult, even if that difference is a rather stout tummy or very long thin legs, not both on the same person. Sam is 27, left a university course three times and returned home to live with his mother, all of his belongings in a jiffy envelope and very depressed. I really wanted to know what he had in that envelope. Keith is a short, rotund man with very hairy nostrils and full of stories on repeat that demand to be listened to, which is all Sam really wants to do. It means he doesn’t have to think. Keith offers him a job although what the work is no one is ever quite sure.

Time passes, habitual – pasties for lunch every day – until Sam is allowed into the offices of the portakabins and starts to talk to the reception staff. And then circumstances dictate that Sam drives and things seem to go downhill but in reality, Sam is slowly, slowly starting to feel better. Through everything we have men talking at each other, laughing about each other behind their backs but no one ever having a proper conversation (or is that a woman’s persepctive about what aproper conversation should look like?) especially at the bi-monthly carvery where they all meet up. In fact, when Sam spots Keith standing on his own, tipping his pint into the garden, it seems to be turning point where Sam asks more questions about Keith and his life which Keith does not like to answer.

Eventually, Sam is offered a job in the arts, something that he loves, and he leaves home once again to take on the challenge, well enough to do so. The book is a very melancholic look at men and how they communicate, heightened by the blue and white drawings that have a little brown as colour to accentuate elements. The King Charles Cavalier that Keith owns is beautifully depicted in brown and white with a cross face, just her normal expression, and an indifference to Sam. The page with the items commonly seen in reception areas was so true to life. I think the tyre place we go to has them all; box files, spider plant, charity sweets, painting of pebbles and more. Wonderful.

This is a quiet book, a slow, lovingly told rendition of living with and getting better from depression and the way in which each man has a story that he is not talking about. One of the sadnesses is that Keith’s job no longer exists, that it is all done by computer now, but he continues to visit all of the businesses because otherwise what would he do? For a contemplation on men today and some of the challenges they face, this book is a wonderful, gentle reflection on so many missed opportunities.

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