Strangers in Paradise (Book 2)

The second pocket book in Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise series is more action-packed, more fanciful, and, on the whole, more complicated than his previous installment. It begins with a dream sequence (or is it?) in which Francine imagines another life for herself, one of marriage and motherhood and frumpiness—in short, a life far different from the one she is living with Katchoo. She awakens ten years younger, crammed into a tiny apartment with her best friend (and maybe more), pretty much in the same uncertain position we last saw her in. Everything seems back to normal, although Francine and Katchoo, unable to touch the 850,000 dollars in the bank, are struggling to get by. Francine gets a job working for an advertising agency and, due to a wardrobe mishap, unwittingly winds up the spokesmodel for a condom campaign; Katchoo spends her days painting, or trying to—if only David would comply with her request that he pose nude! The fun and games abruptly end, however, when Darcy Parker, Katchoo’s ex-lover and a criminal mastermind (not to mention David’s sister) reemerges, this time with her eyes on the White House.

Soon everyone is ensnared in Darcy’s various plots. David’s presence on her lush estate lures Katchoo back, and into her old ways. Francine, desperate to get in touch with her best friend, starts piecing together the widespread evidence of Darcy’s machinations. Things look bleak, with the entire political system implicated, but the book reaches a fairly quick resolution (indeed, the last hundred pages are unrelated Strangers in Paradise comics). I was disappointed that such a large, almost unwieldy, story line was resolved so quickly, but perhaps, as with the first book, this one will have its various threads revisited in later installments. Many of the ideas were good, such as Darcy’s D.U.C.K.s (Deep Underground Capability), a term which applies to those girls who infiltrated their target’s lives from the most unexpected angles. I can’t imagine that we have seen the last of this behavior, as almost everyone in this series seems to harbor a dark secret.

I also liked how this book gave even further insight into Katchoo’s previous life, which is always interesting, and certainly helps to explain even who Katchoo is in the present. My only complaint is that there is no equality in the main characters’ backstories: while we have learned plenty about why Katchoo left home and what she did while she was away, we still know relatively little about David, for example. He is a mystery to both us and the other characters. I am assuming this will be resolved in later books, so I will hold off on any criticism. Still, it would be nice just to have some straightforward flashbacks or flashforwards: I’m still confused as to whether the peek at Francine 10 years older was a dream or not.

Of course, some of these stylistic choices no doubt represent the appeal of Moore’s work. He can craft a complex narrative and employ interesting storytelling techniques, furthering the plot in endlessly inventive ways. If anything, his skills have only grown since the last book. That makes this latest book more impressive, as well as more frustrating. Particularly for someone who doesn’t read a lot of comics, it is difficult to know how to interpret the rapidly shifting frames that jump across time and space. It is often disorienting…but it is hard to know whether that disorientation is universal to everyone. As with the last book, however, I am interested in seeing these characters again. And so, I look forward to the next installment, to see where Katchoo, Francine, and David end up.

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