Sugar Skull

(text & illus.). Pantheon. Sept. 2014. 64p. ISBN 9780307907905. $23. SF/HORROR
OrangeReviewStarOnly an artist as audacious as Burns would attempt a mashup of William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch and Tintin, the internationally beloved comic book adventurer; only a master storyteller would be able to carve a startlingly moving tale of love, loss, and regret out of that unlikely pairing. Completing the narrative Burns began in X'ed Out, here protagonist Doug is struggling with grief over the death of his father and haunted by a shattered romance. Doug's story is intercut with that of a man wandering an eerie, decaying wasteland filled with freaks and monsters, obsessed with the beautiful broodmare for a race of lizard people. Burns demands and rewards attentive reading, letting the novel unfold in a fractured chronology and employing patterns of repeated imagery and color to draw connections between the two narratives. He brings them together into something altogether new that blends bildungsroman with visceral horror to elucidate the mental state of his protagonist. While Burns has long been known for his ability to make readers squirm, this volume highlights his skill as a compassionate observer of human folly.
VERDICT Highly recommended, especially for horror fans unafraid of feeling a more nuanced range of emotions. [Five-city tour.]
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