Subway Literature: Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia

This book is going on my special bookcase, the one that used to be a pie-cooling cupboard and has chickenwire screens in front of each shelf. Only my very favorites go in the pie cupboard. Fortunately Tales from Outer Suburbia is very narrow, because there’s not much space left in there. If I can manage it, I will file it next to Barry Yourgrau’s Wearing Dad’s Head, because Outer Suburbia reminded me a lot of reading Yourgrau. Both books are made up of brief, perfect, odd moments just long enough to get under the skin, and in one case in Outer Suburbia, to actually make me cry (“Undertow”). Both books promise that the strange can–and likely will, if you bother to look–turn up right in your front yard and in your own family. If I was going to really geek out, I’d be tempted to start talking about Freud’s essay on the uncanny and how these books perfectly exemplify the way in which the familiar and the strange are so deeply intertwined, but I do my best geeking out after a glass of bourbon and I haven’t eaten yet today so the whole thing would probably result in a lot of misspellings and even longer sentences than this one.

And let me not begin to gush about Mr. Tan’s artwork.

In the negative column, you have to keep yourself from rushing through this book or you come up for air and not only is it already over, but you’ve also missed your subway stop. Unfortunately, although I tried to slow myself down, I wound up rushing from one story to the next way too quickly, and Tales from Outer Suburbia wound up being a one-way subway read (darn, had to go buy another book for the trip home). But I think that’s really my only complaint. Anyway I’m sure I’ll read it again.

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