12/14/10

"3 Story" by Matt Kindt

2,752 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

As of May 28th, 2010, US armed forces have suffered 4,404 deaths and 31,827 soldiers were wounded in action. The Associate Press estimates there have been 110,600 violent Iraqi deaths due to the conflict. All these numbers are staggering, but hard to fathom until you successfully place a story next to any one of the deaths.

A similar sentiment is uttered by one of the characters in "3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man." "When they put a number on it...it just made it real. But cold, like a business transaction."

In this case, the speaker is talking about his son, who was evidently killed in an accident involving Craig Pressgang, the Giant Man of the title.  Craig has a brain tumor which stimulates his pituitary gland, causing him to grow unnaturally large.  As a result he's six feet tall by age nine, more than ten feet tall while in college, and continues to grow to more and more mammoth until his death.

The book is told from three viewpoints.  The first story is Craig's mother's point of view. She mourns her husband's death in battle during World War II, and dotes on her son as a replacement for her lost "Butchy."  Craig's sudden growth ends that hope, and she treats his growth problem more as an act of rebellion than a physiological aberration.  When Craig starts having friends and dating girls his mother feels like "the hat-check girl they walk by on the way to the rest of their lives."  When Craig leaves home for college it's difficult to tell if he's leaving her, or she's closing the door on him.

The second story is told by Jo, Craig's girlfriend/wife. She meets "3 Story" at a protest rally, and there's a cute story detailing how they start dating.  She's an artist who sees Craig both as an architectural marvel and a human being.  The fall in love and decide to get married. Meanwhile, he's contacted by the CIA and given a secret job as a courier.  During their honeymoon Jo becomes pregnant, and Craig continues to grow.

The larger he grows the longer the nerve impulses take to reach his extremities, which is both a metaphor and a reality for someone who is soon approaching 20 feet tall. As a celebrity, Craig participates in the New York Thanksgiving Parade, walking between Snoopy and Underdog.  When he suffers a fit and topples into a building the image evokes the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  Kindt uses a full page to render the image of the Giant Man toppled into a skyscraper under the headline of "Disaster!"

Mirroring the first story, as Craig grows upward his wife becomes more distant, and she literally blocks him out of her life, building a smaller house inside their large house.  Eventually they can't even talk with each other, his voice is too booming loud, while hers is but a whisper in her ears. They communicate via rough messages on a chalkboard.  Since he's been let go by the CIA, and fearing he'll harm his wife or their young daughter, Craig leaves to wander the world in a massive walkabout.

The third and final story comes from the Craig's daughter as she searches for the ultimate resting place of her father.  She's received an advance from her publisher, which she's using to literally follow in her father's footsteps.  She learns the secrets of how the CIA manipulated Craig Pressgang, but she also has new questions as she follows the map.

The way Kindt relates the book of "3 Story" is interesting. Each story is from the first-person point of view, so we never know the internal thoughts of Craig Pressgang.  The only way to know Craig is through the stories told of him by the various characters, or by the images shown on the page. I suggest this is a metaphor for the larger problems in life, like wars, or 9/11, or even economic crises. Problems like these are too large for anyone to fully know unless we can relate to an individual's story.

"Three Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man" is drawn in a thoughtful way. The art has a sketchy, functional look about it, reminiscent of courtroom watercolors, which works well for the documentary aspect of the story. The story can be read in many ways. For example, Craig's abnormal growth could represent the expansion of the US economy and military after WWII.  Or, Craig's distance from his mother could be a metaphor for the growth of the teenager in the 50's.  The wonder of Kindt's work is that it suggests these thoughts without explicitly talking about them.

This book, however, isn't a feel-good, good overcomes evil sort of story.  Craig dies in the end, as do we all.  Yet, Kindt leaves us with a feeling of hope that some of our actions will be understood by allowing Craig to find a resting place near his loved ones. It's as if he's trying to find meaning to all the deaths in wars and tragedies through history.  Additionally, one of Craig Pressgang's most important actions is staring us right in the face. "The closer I looked at everything, the less I seemed to under stand," she says. "I guess ultimately the only clue to his identity was what he left behind."

Here's a link to Kindt's website, and  here's an 8-page new story about the Giant Man.
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