I was prepared for a boyish romp through comicbookland. A buddy movie wrapped up in a Pulitzer Prize-winning package. What I got was a love story -- love of family, love of art, romantic love, love lost and found and true, deep, abiding friendship -- heart wrenching and heartwarming all at the same time.
"Late that night, Rosa and her father helped Joe from the taxi to the curb and thence along the narrow lane up to the steps of the Harkoo house. His arms were draped across their shoulders and his feet seemed to glide two inches off the ground. He had not touched a drop all night, on orders from the emergency-room doctor at Mt. Sinai, but the morphine painkillers he had been given had finally taken their toll. Of that journey from the taxi to the curb, Joe was later to retain only the faint pleasant memory of Siggy Saks's kolnischwasser smell and of the coolness of Rosa's shoulder against his own abraded cheek. They dragged him up to the study and laid him out on the couch. Rosa unlaced his shoes, unbuttoned his trousers, helped him off with his shirt. She kissed his forehead, his cheeks, his chest, his belly, pulled a blanket up to his chin and then kissed his lips. Rosa's father brushed Joe's hair back from his bandaged brow with a soft motherly hand. Then there was darkness and the sound of their voices draining out of the room."
Joe's story is both tragic and heroic, as are the stories of Rosa and Sammy. They're punished for loving too much or the wrong person. They struggle to live ordinary lives while dreaming of extraordinary things. Art and writing -- albeit in the form of comic books -- sustain them, give them hope and allow them to escape this world.
"Having lost his mother, father, brother, and grandfather, the friends and foes of his youth, his beloved teacher Bernard Kornblum, his city, his history -- his home -- the usual charge leveled against comic books, that they offered merely an easy escape from reality, seemed to Joe actually to be a powerful argument on their behalf."
And who couldn't use an escape from reality now and then?