Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Pow Pow Week: Sophie Bédard's Lonely Boys

Sophie Bédard's Lonely Boys is a hilariously misleading title, since men barely figure into the narrative at all. Instead, it's another slice-of-life story centering around three women and their often fractious and difficult friendships. Once again, all three of the main characters are massively flawed and often hard to sympathize with, yet it's their flaws that make them feel so human. It's a story about unrequited love, hurt feelings, second chances, betrayals, being paternalistic, acting like a child, and in general people trying to figure out how to be adults. Above all else, it's about how the need to connect plays out in a world where all of our older bonds (family, college) have slipped away and we're trying to figure out who we are. Like Almost Summer, it's compulsively readable; once you start, you don't want to put it down. It's fun to spend time with these three frustrating but ultimately lovable protagonists. 

Lonely Boys centers around roommates Lucie and Jen, who immediately have to contend with the return of Ella, their former roommate who bursts in on them after disappearing for a year with no explanation (and stealing the communal money). The plot centers around why Ella comes back. The cover of the book hints at a lot--three friends looking off in different directions, with Ella turning her back on the others. Jen is fiercely loyal but judgmental, especially of Lucie--almost to the point of infantilizing her. It doesn't help that Lucie starts the book by staying in the tub all night because she still can't get over her ex and refuses to get out when Jen wants to pee. She acts like a child, so Jen treats her like one, with bad boundaries all around. 

Ella's another matter. It's clear that Jen was in love with her, and Ella's cruel departure wounded her badly. Ella is an enigma: on the one hand, she's caring and effortlessly cool. She does what it takes to survive and is willing to hurt others if need be. On the other hand, she genuinely tries to reconnect and right past wrongs when she returns, only she continually chickens out at the last second at doing the right (and hard) thing. It's no surprise that when Ella fights to win her friends back but then leaves again when Jen lays out the truth about her feelings: she's always there for Ella, but Ella uses her "like a pawn." Ella returns in the first place not to make up with her friends, but to have a safe landing spot for an abortion, which leads to a hilarious scene where a neighbor takes her to the clinic, thinking it was a date, and then Lucie and Jen come along, furious that Ella didn't tell them. 

Above all else, Bédard has a great sense of comic timing. Jen is a perfect straight-man character, slowly burning over the shenanigans of Lucie's moods and childish behavior and then Ella's sheer narcissism. Lonely Boys also features an all-timer of a supporting character in Sophie, an insufferable "indigo child" who can see auras, has multiple catering jobs, and is totally sanguine with stalkers because she's a "modern young woman." She's a hilarious bag of hipster cliches all rolled up into one character. Ella likes her because unlike Jen, Ella doesn't like to judge. Ultimately, Ella understands the ways in which she fucked up, as she asks a sleepy Lucie if she's a parasite to her and Jen, but she's not willing to do the work to repair relationships. Worse, she selfishly writes it off as being better for her friends if she just leaves. In the end, Lucie is a little more hardened and Jen a little more sanguine with regard to everything. No matter what their conflicts, they are there for each other, and that's what sets them apart from Ella. 

Once again, Bédard succeeds because of her inventive character design, ear for dialogue, and understanding of just how complicated interpersonal dynamics and histories can be. She's adept at drawing different body types (the tiny Lucie is particularly fun), she's willing to get gross and weird (the pissing revenge plots between Lucie and Jen were hilarious), and she's frank about sex and relationships. By giving each character highly well-defined motivations, it's that clash of motivations that not only creates interesting conflicts, it makes each character sympathetic without excusing their poor judgment. This is a mainstream comic in the best sense of the word. 

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