The Contract with God Trilogy : Life on Dropsie Avenue Hardback
by Will Eisner
Will Eisner (1917-2005) saw himself as "a graphic witness reporting on life, death, heartbreak, and the never-ending struggle to prevail." The publication of A Contract With God when Eisner was sixty-one proved to be a watershed moment both for him and for comic literature.
It marked the birth of the modern graphic novel and the beginning of an era when serious cartoonists could be liberated from their stultifying comic-book format. More than a quarter-century after the initial publication of A Contract With God, and in the last few months of his life, Eisner chose to combine the three fictional works he had set on Dropsie Avenue, the mythical street of his youth in Depression-era New York City. As the dramas unfold in A Contract With God, the first book in this new trilogy, it is at 55 Dropsie Avenue where Frimme Hersh, the pious Jew, first loses his beloved daughter, then breaks his contract with his maker, and ends up as a slumlord; it is on Dropsie Avenue where a street singer, befriended by an aging diva, is so beholden to the bottle that he fails to grasp his chance for stardom; and it is there that a scheming little girl named Rosie poisons a depraved super's dog before doing in the super as well.
In the second book, A Life Force, declared by R. Crumb to be "a masterpiece," Eisner re-creates himself in his protagonist, Jacob Shtarkah, whose existential search reflected Eisner's own lifelong struggle.
Chronicling not only the Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression but also the rise of Nazism and the spread of left-wing politics, Eisner combined the miniaturist sensibility of Henry Roth with the grand social themes of novelists such as Dos Passos and Steinbeck. Finally, in Dropsie Avenue: The Neighborhood, Eisner graphically traces the social trajectory of this mythic avenue over four centuries, creating a sweeping panorama of the city and its waves of new residents-the Dutch, English, Irish, Jews, African Americans, and Puerto Ricans-whose faces changed yet whose lives presented an unending "story of life, death, and resurrection." The Contract With God Trilogy is a mesmerizing, fictional chronicle of a universal American experience and Eisner" most poignant and enduring literary legacy.
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 528 pages, Illustrations
- Publisher: WW Norton & Co
- Publication Date: 06/12/2005
- Category: Comics and Graphic Novels
- ISBN: 9780393061055
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by jferr29
Power illustrated novel about life in the Bronx. "Dropsie Avenue", the last volume in the trilogy, was especially powerful as a history of a Bronx neighborhood that could have been written about the old neighborhood.
Review by alexnisnevich
In general, I admit that I'm rather prejudiced toward graphic novels. I've been recommended Watchmen and similar works, but to me they seemed not different enough from regular ol' comics to merit the "novel" category. I never really felt that a graphic novel could really capture the sort of spark of light that you see in good books. And then I read The Contract With God trilogy.What WIll Eisner does with these books is truly amazing. He creates an entire neighborhood, full of color and stories and wit, all contained within a single street (and for the most part, within a single building). Rather than hampering the story in any way, the art complements it completely, with the simply drawn yet expressive characters and backgrounds clearly showing what would otherwise take pages and pages on description. Some of the pages were so beautifully drawn that I had to stop reading and just stare at the art for some time. The writing is at turns naturalistic (at times overly reliant on dialect, I felt) and poetic, sort of mimicking Steinbeck.The first book, The Contract with God, is a collection of four short stories set in a single building in the early 20th century Bronx, about a devout man angry with God, a street singer, a building super, and a Jewish resort town. I actually felt that the stories here were rather hit-or-miss, and I liked "The Street Singer" and "Cookalein" best. The second book, The Life Force, returns to the same building in the Depression, this time telling a long and winding narrative involving Communists, Holocaust refugees, interfaith relationships, an "enchanted prince", a Sicilian crime gang, and, of course, cockroaches. The plot sometimes feels that it simply has too much going on, but I was gripped from almost the first page.The third book, Dropsie Avenue, is something different entirely, and sets itself apart from the other two books. It chronicles the entire history of this fictional neighborhood, as it passed from Dutch colonists to the English and Irish upper classes, then to in turns Italian, Jewish, Hispanic, and black tenement dwellers, and what happened afterward, covering several centuries in all but focusing primarily on the 20th century. It's a history of a neighborhood, but it's more than just that, because, as one character writes, "Buildings are only buildings, but people make a neighborhood." In this book, unlike the others, the reader truly gets to see characters grow: a core group of characters is seen from childhood to old age, and characters change as the neighborhood around them changes well. The book is very nostalgic, but also warns against overly attaching oneself to a single image of the past, because change is always present, in every neighborhood, "visible evidence of implacable growth."P.S. I just read that Will Eisner wrote and drew Dropsie Avenue at age 78. This man is unbelievable.
Review by wyvernfriend
Without the illustration this would have been nothing really, with the illustration you see these sequence of graphic novels come to life with people and neighbourhoods and history all interwoven and intermingled. The first book is Contract with God which compromises four stories, Contract with God, The Street Singer, The Super and Cookalein, these were written as a sequence and form an interwoven story of the time they're set in.The second book, A Life Force is the story of one man's life path from the depression to a new fortune. Interesting and touching.The last book is Dropsie Avenue, a biography of a neighbourhood, where he points at the contradictions people are and how they forget so quickly how they were once the new settlers, over and over again.I found this interesting and touching and hope to be as eloquent in my 90s.
Review by swampygirl
Although I like this collection better then the other work by him that I've read, something always seems to inherently rub me the wrong way about Eisner.<br/>I do like his aesthetic style though, and appreciate how the piece was a breath of fresh air when it comes to the narcissistic nature of semi-autobiographical graphic novels - this collection had a slightly more mature edge to it over all.
Review by AgneJakubauskaite