This is a story about two people and about love. No, not that kind of story.
One of the people writes that kind of story, though. Pamela Green is a romance novelist, reasonably successful writing as Leonie Hart, with a fan club and what seems to be solid but unspectacular sales. But she’s in a bad patch of writer’s block, and has possibly soured on the entire idea of romantic love. Personally, she’s deep into her middle years, and alone: we don’t know exactly why and how when the book opens, but we will learn.
The other person is a young man: we actually meet him first. We don’t know his name. He travels to London from wherever, hitching rides and exchanging sex for money. He ends up on the street, with another young man. Things go bad.
Room for Love is the story of Pam and that man — call him Cougar; he does when he gives Pam a name at all. It’s by a cartoonist of several names himself: credited as Ilya here, known to me previously as the Ed Hillyer who worked with Eddie Campbell on a number of Deadface stories .
Pam and Cougar meet on a bridge. It’s already a third of the way through this graphic novel, so we know their routines and lives pretty well at that point. Pam thinks Cougar is going to kill himself; we’re not sure but it seems plausible. She’s wrong, and she ruins what Cougar has. To atone, she offers, suddenly and surprisingly to both of them, for him to live in her house.
Cougar, we see, is the kind of man who takes every opportunity he can, so he agrees. He moves in with her, cleans up a bit. Opens up, not even that much of a bit. They end up having sex after a couple of days, and then regularly.
In retrospect, we realize that’s Cougar’s pattern: it’s how he gets close to people, how he transacts with people, how he gets what he wants. Maybe we realize that at the time: I didn’t. Pam doesn’t. Pam thinks this is a relationship.
Well, it is. But she thinks it’s a romantic relationship, when it’s a business relationship. Eventually, she learns better.
Actually, they both come out of Room for Love a little bit better, more able to handle the next big thing in their respective lives, the thing they were avoiding and trying not to think about.
Ilya tells this story in contrasting colors: brown for Cougar and blue for Pam – panels washed with their respective colors when they’re separate
, discrete highlights on their clothing when they’re together, dialog boxes outside panels in their colors. It’s a small thing, but a deeply comics thing: a clear visual representation of how separate they are, and a clean way to keep what are and are not two story strands separate. His art falls in that no-man’s-land: a little bit of cartooniness in his faces, to make them instantly identifiable, but mostly realistic, only in a slightly simplified, cleaner way. (I don’t have the language to talk very well about art; I’m a words person, mostly.)
This is a thoughtful story about two well-defined people. I have a few quibbles: there’s more than a bit of psycho-babble near the end, and I think Pam’s agent is acting a lot more like an editor. But the quibbles are all on that level: minor, unimportant. Room For Love is interesting and resonant: it’s a book worth reading.