(This review is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire)
Some authors seem so crazy brilliant that I imagine I would turn into a blithering idiot if ever I had the chance to meet them. Shaun Tan is right up there on that list for me. Of course, it doesn’t help that not only is he an amazingly talented writer, but the man is one of the most gifted illustrators working right now too. Everything he has created feels important to me. Not a pretentious capital a “Artistic” kind of important. It’s more like reading Tan’s books lets you glimpse his thoughts on some of the deepest questions about what it means to be human. Reading a new Shaun Tan book is almost a spiritual experience.
Enter Tales from Outer Suburbia. You’ll find fifteen short stories, all illustrated with trademark Tan art, featuring strange happenings in the fringes of civilization (aka – suburbia). It’s really impossible to say what’s better in this slim volume – story or images. Both will captivate and charm you, and make you wonder about the extraordinary things out there in your own backyard, hiding in the places you think you know best.
I could spend ages just staring at the end papers (always sure proof that you’ve got something remarkable in your hands). You’ll see strange and wacky doodles of critters and landscapes and everyday objects, some linked to the stories in the collection, and others just there to make you laugh and wonder. Pure quirky delight.
I won’t reveal much about the stories, since so much pleasure comes from being surprised by their strangeness the first time you read them. Favorites: Eric – a story about an unusual foreign exchange student and being open to appreciating other cultures and experiences; Make Your Own Pet – every kid’s dream come true: instructions for how to make your own kitty; Undertow – what happens within a family when something completely unbelievable shows up on their front lawn.
Tales from Outer Suburbia explores how magic and meaning so often lie just below the surface of everyday life. We must be open to wonder and be ready to celebrate things that don’t make sense. Tan suggests that every place, even a place as seemingly mundane as the suburbs, has hidden gifts to offer those who are ready to accept them. This is a collection for artists and dreamers, and for anyone in need of a jolt of inspiration.