Pride of the Decent Man
Pride of the Decent Man is the kind of quiet, literary graphic novel that’s too easily overlooked, because it doesn’t have a high concept with a catchy hook. As told by T.J. Kirsch, it’s a simple story, but one with great resonance, about a life full of struggles and poor choices made, culminating in being in the wrong place at the wrong time out of the best of motives. Life can be nasty, this book tells us, with entire lives shaped by the simplest wrong decisions, and yet, the “decent man”‘s attempt to make more out of it is inspiring.
Andrew is an abused child in a nowhere small town. He dreams of writing, but his best friend’s stupid ideas get him in trouble, eventually landing him in prison. Now released, he’s just found out he has a previously unknown daughter. Meeting her gives him hope for redemption, a new start.
Kirsch’s portrait of the adult Andrew has him as a block of a man, as seen in these preview pages. As he flips through his old journals, we see flashbacks to key moments in his past life that brought him to this point. He’s not central to his own story, with the eye drawn as much to others as to him, which reflects the way he drifts through life, unable to realize his own choices.
Even attempts to do the right thing are derailed by others’ opinions of him, formed long ago but not let go of. One hopes for more for him, but sometimes life doesn’t provide happy endings, but perhaps the chance of something different for another generation.
Kirsch’s selection of a limited number of glimpses into Andrew’s life is masterful, giving us just enough to stitch together our own impressions of the character. We don’t know much about him, in actuality, even though we’re reading his journals as narration. Even when he tells us what he’s feeling, he doesn’t have the strength to dive deep, because that would require facing his anger and sadness. In that way, we know more about him than he does.
We’re not often taught, any more, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” We’ve lost a lot of our empathy for those not like us, or who find themselves in situations we imagine we’d never be in. Pride of the Decent Man argues against that remove by opening up a different kind of life to the reader.
Find out more about the author’s influences at the publisher’s blog. (The publisher provided a review copy.)