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June 19, 2010: I've launched a new version of this website as a Wordpress blog. This version won't be updated anymore.
If you don't see the images of a review, it means that I've transferred it to the new site.

Bread & Wine

A graphic novel published by Juno Books, 1999.
Buy from Amazon.

Category: autobiography.

Author(s): Samuel R. Delany, Mia Wolff.

This is a love story. This is a tale of two very different men who shouldn't have met, shouldn't have talked, shouldn't have found out they enjoyed being together.

Samuel Delany was teaching at Amherst when he met Dennis, a man who was selling books at a street corner. Delany bought a book from him. Or rather, he wanted to buy a book, but didn't have the money with him. And Dennis lent him the book. That was the beginning. What happened next was a budding friendship that turned to attraction for Delany, and a week-end spent together in a motel which showed them both they were highly compatible. And they were happy ever after, or something like that.

That sounds so romantic, doesn't it? Well, the story does have a romantic side, but it also has far more realistic aspects: Dennis had been homeless for six years. He was poor and didn't have the opportunity to wash very often, to say the least. Delany doesn't shy away from showing what a man who's led such a life must smell like, what his clothes must look like. He shows Dennis taking a bath for the first time in a long time, as he shows the two of them making love. This endows the story with a physical, sensual strength that is all the more palpable as the artist, Mia Wolff, has a style which is as suited to mundane life (I think she would do a great job illustrating Harvey Pekar's stories) as to intimate or surreal moments.

The graphic novel is followed by a conversation between Mia Wolff, Samuel Delany, Dennis and a few other people close to the men. The backstage informations are fascinating and uplifting, but leave the reader begging for more. That would be the only criticism I have toward this book: it is far too short (44 pages drawn). Dennis remains a mystery throughout the book, and the way he acclimatized to his new life is not told.
But what does come through - the human warmth of these people, the unfairness of the situation of the homeless, the short and significant moments of everyday life - all this far makes up for that.

Bread & Wine is definitely an important book. In its refusal to hide the life of homeless people in our contemporary societies, in its unapologetic way of showing two men taking pleasure in each other, in its portrayal of two lives which, one day, by chance, crossed path to find a common ground upon which to build a new, hopefully lasting, relationship.

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