Empire State – A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga (2011)
Jason Shiga’s Empire State is a graphic novel reminiscence of a bus trip from Oakland to New York City, told episodically in a manner best left to the reader’s discovery. Jimmy aspires to a high-tech career, but he feels trapped in Oakland by familial expectations, a lack of worldliness, and seemingly minimal ambition.
He finds motivation to venture outside the Bay Area when his best friend Sara takes an internship with a New York publishing house. With romantic notions of seeing the country and romantic notions of confessing his love, he purchases a bus ticket rather than a flight, thinking a bus ride will truly let him experience the country along his way.
Although I find the narrative to be tone-perfect, I’m also a romantic 51-year-old never-married English major who got on a plane in his twenties to propose to a woman. Others may find the story unsatisfying, the way even great short stories can feel incomplete.
Where Empire State scores best is with an overall slacker, angsty mood. References to Dreamweaver and Sleepless in Seattle set the era. Sequences of wordless scenery provide the uncomfortable mundanity of aimless, post-college existence many of us remember as we contemplated stepping into a dreadful world inherited from boomer yuppies.
If you or a friend had a freshly printed college diploma in the mid-to-late 90s and a McJob shelving books in the local library, you’ll recognize Jimmy’s world, and you’ll probably recognize Jimmy, too.
A nice, quick read.
PS: Don’t pass it along right when you’re done. It rewards a second reading.