The blurbs on the book say that The Sculptor is about “life” and “art” and “love” and “death” and “family.” It’s not. Maybe other artists/authors think it’s about those things (because artists like to think that art = life, and authors like to think everything is about love or death or family), but The Sculptor is about the fruitless pursuit of living forever; or rather, the fruitless pursuit of living forever through art, love, or family. Maybe the author was wrong about it too; that’s why it occasionally misses.
David makes a deal with death (who looks just like his Uncle Harry) where he can easily sculpt whatever he wants, but he only gets 200 days to do it. After that, he dies. This is where the author dissects art succinctly: just because you do your best, it doesn’t mean people want to see it, it doesn’t mean you’ll make a name for yourself, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s any good. Where the narrative falters: there are side-conversations about “what is good” throughout. These conversations don’t add to the story. As a matter of fact, they’re distracting. It’s like inter-track commentaries on a Limp Bizkit album.
Once David makes a bunch of sculptures and can’t sell them, he meets a girl, Meg. This is where the author dissects love succinctly: just because you want someone doesn’t mean they want you, having a physical attraction to someone is of secondary importance, and having common interests is not as vital as having common outlooks. Where the narrative falters: there’s an entire side-plot where David just has to try hard and Meg will love him. This doesn’t add to the story. As a matter of fact, it’s boring. Imagine tiny snippets of Valentines’s Day interspersed between scenes of Shawshank.
Eventually, as it should, the two storylines come together and we start to see why David really wants to sculpt – he wants to “make a name” for himself; he wants to somehow make a mark on the world; he wants to somehow live for eternity. He sculpts events from his personal life to accomplish this, but no one seems to be buying. He then uses his powers to make sculptures in the street using buildings and sidewalks and lampposts. These sculptures seem to be more popular, but they’re not him (and no one knows he’s the artist). From here, there is a sporadic discussion about David being selfish and seeing Meg as just another sculpture. These discussions don’t add to the story. As a matter of fact, they’re predictable (just like the “shocking” being-chased-by-the-cops-in-the-rain-where-he-uses-an-entire-building-to-sculpt-his-lady-and-then-it’s-revealed-as-the-fog-clears ending).
I know it sounds like I’m shitting on the book, but I’m only doing it a little. When The Sculptor misses, it barely misses. There’s a street performance where Meg is an angel (the symbolism is a little too in your face). There are cringe-worthy conversations about philosophy. There are a few points where it’s obvious that the author just created the personality traits of “because he’s sensitive he’s unpredictable” and “because she’s bi-polar she’s unpredictable” to use as conflict. But those are minor. There’s a lot of this book that stays with you:
- In the initial conversation with Death, Uncle Harry describes the life that David could live if he wanted to give up on sculpting. It’s short, concise, and powerful. It describes virtually everyone I know (including myself).
- When David asks about the afterlife, Death touches his hand and there is a two-page spread of nothing.
- When it’s revealed what David has been working on, there is an amazing two-page spread (no borders) of all of his sculptures. As someone who draws, I know that couldn’t have been easy.
- When David asks Death why he doesn’t just refuse to take some people, Death explains that there really isn’t a choice by comparing it to flipping a coin and having it land on heads and tails.
- As the clock ticks down to 200 days, a sense of urgency comes in as the panels get smaller and the conversations get shorter and the ideas become less nuanced and more black-and-white.
- When David understands that the only thing that anyone can hope for is to be a part of the chain of life, we see how art – for the sake of immortality – is ultimately useless.
- When David’s life flashes before his eyes, there are three (three!) full-sized, slightly-angled, two-page spreads, each with dozens of snapshots from David’s life.
Although it’s a terrific book (I rank it higher than Jimmy Corrigan, but lower than Church and State), I wish the author would’ve spent more time on two things:
1) Concisely portraying things with the art. There are a few great instances of using the art to show a character’s state of mind:
But not nearly enough. The book is a little long for what it’s trying to accomplish.
2) The name. I get it. The Sculptor is the job of the protagonist, but it’s also how he “sculpts” his life and how death “sculpts” our lives and how life “sculpts” our perceptions… I get it. But there are SO MANY better names.
I think this is going to be the Edge of Tomorrow for comics.
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