Is this book about Adrian Tomine working through his issues? Has he cast himself in the lead role and then made himself as odious as possible? I don't know, but it does look like it -- autobiography once removed.

The skill is in making Ben just likable enough (he is funny) so that you don't give up in anger, and can see why his best friend sticks with him. One of the few weaknesses of Summer Blonde was the blankness of some of the secondary characters, who often just existed to spark up dialogue in which the hero's problems are aired. With Shortcomings, Tomine has more pages to play with, and while the focus is relentlessly on Ben, the other characters get their due.

Ben is a bastard, and all of his shortcomings get listed at the end (for your easy reference!) There are hints of self awareness in his final words, and the ending is open as regards whether he will change or not. But since I (happily) share none of his hang-ups, his perfectly told story didn't really challenge me very much.

What I liked most about the book were the opening pages of each of the three chapters: all pieces of artistic expression (a film, a concert, a set of photographs), and all reacted to in different ways (disdain, fake admiration, heartbreak). It's an interesting little meditation on what art can do to us, how we unconciously react to it, and how we conciously modify that reaction. Ben has zero awareness of this process. More broadly, he has zero awareness of himself. He cannot see his shortcomings. That is his ultimate tragedy.

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