Review: ‘The Year of Loving Dangerously’
The Year of Loving Dangerously
By Ted Rall and Pablo G. Callejo
ComicsLit, 128 pages, $18.95
Ted Rall is a talented, controversial opinion-maker through his columns and his cartoonists. His somewhat jaundiced look at life has been shaped by many factors, chief among them, 1984, the year referred to in the title of this courageous memoir recently released under NBM’s ComicsLit imprint.
A junior, Ted developed a medical condition that shoved his life off course and in rapid succession; he was failed by his family, Columbia University, his friends, and strangers in Manhattan. As a result, Ted found himself expelled, homeless, and practically penniless, struggling to survive.
He found an unusual solution, picking up or letting himself be picked up by women essentially exchanging sexual favors for a warm place to sleep. For the better part of a year, Ted, still smarting from the breakup with Philippa, the girl of his dreams, has a steady stream of sexual relationships and in frank terms, tells his reader that he didn’t necessary revel in the activity. It was survival mechanism, much as he broke into a Barnard dorm to crash or later stole supplies from the University that jerked him around in order to raise cash.
Rall is 21, handsome, and clearly desirable but despite the variety of sexual partners at a time when AIDS was just hitting the headlines, he hates his life and his self-esteem remains fairly low. Chris, his best pal, has his own issues, walking a fine line between recreational drug use and becoming a junkie, threatening to drag Ted with him.
The writing is clear-eyed and unsparing in his appraisal of his own behavior and that of those around him. When things finally begin to turn around and he finds a job but doesn’t yet have the cash to afford first and last month rent, Ted continues to indulge in questionable behavior. Still, he tried to follow a moral path, writing, “Unlike faceless corporate entities, built on institutionalized theft, individual people were strictly off-limits.”
He gets the job, settles into three stable relationships with women (keeping each ignorant of the others), and survives a fresh encounter with Philippa. You’re rooting for him along the way, wondering if you would have made the same choices in the name of basic survival.
Much of the strength in this remarkable account comes from Pablo G Callejo’s artwork. The Spanish artist keenly captures the look and feel of New York City during the go-go Reagan years. His people are wonderfully varied and his attention to detail is excellent, from clothing to color. His artwork is ideally suited for this cautionary tale and made reading it a lot easier.
This is an important work in that it lays bare a man’s life and shows how easily things can go awry and why society needs safety nets.