This graphic novel was published as Dropsie Avenue: The Neighborhood by Kitchen Sink Press in 1995 (and I have blogged about it here). It is the third and final instalment of Eisner’s ‘The Contract with God Trilogy’. It can be read as a standalone novel, or enjoyed as part of a decades-in-the-making story with minor and major strands criss-crossing and weaving to form a fictional New York Neighbourhood.
The story begins in the year 1870 when
“The houses clustered at the intersections where the spiderweb of roads crossed. Soon there were only small farms which then divided into lots. It was visible evidence of implacable growth”. (page 326, chapter n/a).
The fragile connection of these spiderwebs is a key thread throughout the novel. Stories are drawn and written in a relentless spin of tragedies and bittersweet events. As time passes the reader learns of the common threads and lives that comprise the evolving web of the neighbourhood. As the reader progresses she realises the implacable force of time, and, how time can sweep cobwebs away in a seemingly endless cycle of death and rebirth.
This, for me at least, is part of the genius of the novel. Eisner spins a web that is ever-changing yet familiar. It fascinates and traps us, just as time and the neighbourhood ensnares those who come to live there. Escape is only for a lucky few. The optimism of each generation eventually grows weary and descends into prejudice similar to that which hindered the neighbourhood antecedents. The Dutch are replaced by the Irish who are replaced by the Italians replaced by the Hispanics replaced by the Blacks. What is evident in the end is similarity- and not any perceived difference- of the aspirations and the bias inherent within all of these communities.
Eisner evokes our sympathy for and dismay of human nature. He conveys the joy of the end of the Second World war in the story of a soldier bringing his new French wife back to his old neighborhood. The optimism of this period is captured before being slowly eroded as the soldier is drawn into the corruption of developing and destroying a neighborhood he loves. In another wonderful story a woman is convinced her husband has been changed into a dog. As readers we are convinced of the happy outcome of this story until time passes and we discover the true tragedy of her being committed to an asylum or the greater tragedy when her story is reduced to a passing joke to bond over at a convivial neighbourhood reunion.
This storytelling forms part of the joy of reading this graphic novel. We witness and expect tragedy yet are encouraged to love and hope for those whom we read about. We learn that a neighbourhood is more than its bricks and mortar. That it is defined by those existing in its streets, tenements and ruins. Even if you have never been to a big city or to New York, if you live in a village or grew up in the countryside, you can still recognise, sympathise and love the stories and characters that inhabit this novel.