The Infinite Wait and other stories
By Julia Wertz
Koyama Press, 2012
Julia Wertz keeps it moving in her stories. While the stories in this volume tend to involve Wertz laying in bed sick as much as going around to jobs, events etc, Wertz is very good about moving quickly through periods of time which in reality represented days or weeks of relative inaction. She manipulates time in the simplest way that cartoons can, which is by compressing like moments into single mentions. The result is less a shared subjective experience which most cartoonists strive for, and more an distanced, matter-of-fact telling by a speaker who has lived the experience, is over it, but is telling the experience to a friend. Thus, there is a tone of casual, conversational familiarity to Wertz’ stories. Similar to a new acquaintance giving you “the long version” at a casual party.
The three stories in this book all overlap concrete events in Wertz’ life but approach these facts from different angles. “Industry” focuses on every job that Wertz has ever held but the reference to one of those jobs in “The Infinite Wait” serves as kind of a callback. You have had coffee with this person on three separate occasions. She has spoken at greater length about that detail earlier and its mention ties her stories closer to a reality that you can imagine.
In this way, Wertz’ narrative tics and storytelling phrasing becomes familiar to you. As a storyteller Wertz reflexively uses asides to clarify details or to mock things retroactively. She also frequently puts literal-yet-subjective descriptions of what people once said into their dialogue rather than attempting to reconstruct the dialogue naturalistically. This is another sort of an aside. In some ways it feels to me more hers than the traditional comic strip caption-with-arrow-pointing-at-things style of aside. I enjoy both techniques as Wertz employs them. Her stories are absorbing enough to me on their own but these snide jibes and jabs at past-people further humanize Wertz as a narrator and storyteller: long memory and enduring grudges, I think.
The stories are funny but I’m not sure that “funny” is the primary tone that they convey. Wertz’ stories remind me of a friend who is laying bare a life’s worth of stories but surprisingly little baggage. There is no plea for pity or cry for sympathy in these pages. Yet, one wouldn’t call Wertz’ writing dispassionate or even quite matter-of-fact. Honesty without the usual emotional trade off of ear-bending and wrist-twisting.
Ironically, this makes me place even greater trust in Wertz as a narrator and storyteller. Anyway, there’s a really great, show-stopping joke in the middle of the story “Industry” that is almost an unfair gag in that the setup is that there was no setup, bam, surprise, that’s how you tell a joke.