Rutu Modan, Exit Wounds

Exit WoundsExit Wounds by Rutu Modan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Exit Wounds is a bittersweet and rather misleadingly-packaged love story; it is told through serviceable but often inexpressive ligne claire drawing and superb coloring—the generally warm, bright palette creates the unified tone of this melancholy but charming Israeli graphic novel.

The plot of Exit Wounds starts from the possibility that the hero’s ne’er-do-well father has been killed in a suicide bombing. The father’s current lover, a much-younger female soldier (from a wealthy family) named Numi, contacts the working-class cab-driver son, Koby. The two then begin to investigate together the father’s whereabouts. You can probably already see where this is going!

But—spoiler warning—the whole issue of terrorism proves a red herring, and Exit Wounds eventually settles into a domestic romance about the need to let go of past pain and move forward trustingly into new relations. (These themes are either timeless or banal, depending on your sensibility; Modan handles them lightly enough not to offend, in my opinion.)

You would not get any of this from the graphic novel’s packaging, though. The front cover contains an Israeli flag, an explosion, and a newspaper clipping about terrorism, as if this were a violent story about current events and politics. The back cover blurbs, too, point to such macro-issues as “societal malaise,” “classism and sexism in Israeli society,” and “how personal and political history inevitably intertwine.” But while Exit Wounds does fascinatingly depict a society that seems very matter-of-fact about the ever-present possibility of terrorism, it is mostly not about that, and in fact goes out of its way to remove terrorism from the center of the narrative. Political violence haunts the story, shadows it, but is not its main theme. As for classism and sexism, Modan is too subtle a dramatist to be so mono-causal; in fact, I was struck by the graphic novel’s quiet suggestion that mandatory army service is a social force tending to blunt the effects of sexism and classism. (And the sexism Numi suffers seems to come largely from her mother and sister, who torment her for not being normatively feminine or conventionally attractive.) Anyway, I am simply pointing to the common and commonly-observed problem that works of art from other countries are often marketed as emblematic of those countries’ headline issues, however inappropriately. I opened Exit Wounds expecting a political thriller and was actually pleasantly surprised to find that it was largely a romantic comedy—which is what I think its cover should allow it to be.

As I said above, the art was clear enough to tell the story, but—no doubt this is down to taste—I think the figures and faces need a bit more detail if they are to convey subtle emotion. In terms of writing, Koby is a far blander character than Numi, who is fascinatingly unconventional, so I would have preferred to have her as the viewpoint character rather than him. I would also have liked to see more of her life and background. How did she survive her annoying family to become so kind, intelligent, forthright, self-possessed? How did she get together with Koby’s father? By taking our attention from the strongest point of the narrative (i.e., Numi herself), Modan’s commitment to the romance plot and its hero, with his somewhat tedious need to be redeemed, prevents her otherwise accomplished graphic novel from realizing its literary potential.

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