Lulu Anew tackles a topic not often seen in the young adult male-focused American comic industry: the soul-sucking mundanity of life as a housewife. Lulu leaves a job interview knowing that she didn’t get the position. Her time away from the workforce to raise three children makes her undesirable. Instead of going home, she realizes how unhappy she is and how she’s taken for granted, so she wanders to the coast, where she spends time with a man she meets on the beach.
Her husband is a total jerk. His reaction to the announcement that Lulu’s not coming home that night is to get drunk, quit his job in a fit of spite, and force his teenage daughter to watch over her younger brothers. There’s a small attempt to acknowledge why the two came together or stay together, but nothing compelling or satisfactory.
The structure can be a bit confusing, as events are narrated by Lulu’s friends and family gathering to talk about what happened to her, which means a number of characters we only get to know gradually. I was also put off by how, due to the framing, other people often speak for Lulu, which seems contradictory to the point of the book. She needs to find herself, in a classic case of female self-realization, so having other people tell us how she was feeling reads wrong to me. Then again, maybe the point is that no one, even those spying on someone, can know what another person is truly thinking or motivated by. However, I’d like to see more effort put towards trying.
The book is conversation-driven and lengthy, over 150 pages. The art is lovely, capturing the details of the days. It’s also refreshing to see so many normal-looking, everyday people, another change from the usual American industry approach. I’m glad Lulu Anew was brought out, but I can’t say I recommend it, because I didn’t enjoy spending that much time with these people, although I sympathized with Lulu’s struggles. I wanted her to feel better, but the way she goes about it doesn’t feel realistic or believable.
The second half of the book becomes even more incredible. I can kind of understand, I guess, the idea of a few days of a mid-life fling re-energizing a person (particularly given that the teller is French, and that seems like their kind of literature), but afterwards, Lulu keeps voyaging. Except she now needs money. So she tries to rob an old woman, fails miserably, gets guilted, and goes home with her victim instead.
I think I’d like this book more if it was done by someone who’d lived the experience of being worn down as caretaker. But how would that person find time to draw this much art? That’s the struggle in trying to get more viewpoints of adult women reflected in comics. And perhaps Davodeau knows more about this type of life than I assume. But given that there’s a short scene where Lulu is sexually assaulted, and it’s treated as though she’s wrong to be offended by it, I don’t know if I’m willing to be that charitable.
In short, I never felt as though I understood Lulu or her choices. I’m positioned as an outsider, similar to her friends, looking at what happened to her and wondering why. I had different expectations, that a graphic novel would take me more inside her head, and so I ended the volume feeling disappointed.
NBM previously released Étienne Davodeau’s The Initiates, which I enjoyed more, because I was more involved with the topic of how to create and share the fruits of one’s creation with others. I’ve purposefully avoided having a life like Lulu’s for just the reasons shown in Lulu Anew. (The publisher provided a review copy.)