Color of Life: In by Will McPhail

In by Will McPhail

Published: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre(s): Comics, Slice-of-Life
Format: E-Book
Length: 240 pages

I think I experienced a bit of synesthesia while reading In by Will McPhail.

The book is largely done in sketch-like black and white, the characters little more than outlines on a white background, except for moments when Nick, the main character, experiences real human connection. As soon as he makes that connection, the pages burst into fully painted, dynamic scenes, and I oftentimes felt like I could hear the sounds of crashing waves or the swell of some imaginary film score in my head. It made the whole thing quite extraordinary.

Nick is an illustrator, disaffected and disconnected from everyone in his life. He goes to a bar and performs sadness just to see what it might feel like. While he is there, he meets a woman and goes home with her, but feels nothing. Nick can’t seem to stop holding everyone he knows at arm’s length, not even his mother.

And then, one day, he decides that he needs to say something that matters instead of having another meaningless conversation. He takes a small step, and says something real to a plumber who comes to fix his toilet. In a moment, everything changes, and a whole vista of emotion and experience opens up in his mind. It’s like Dorothy stepping into Oz or a movie changing aspect ratios to widescreen. It’s thrilling and invigorating and over too soon.

Nick spends the rest of the book chasing that feeling, trying to open up and let the world in, sometimes with mixed results. When Nick starts uncovering this hidden well of feeling around him, not everything that comes inside is good or happy. The moments of color are an effective emotional gut-punch as the story continues down more fraught pathways.

One of my favorite parts of the book is a weird little story Nick tells about a slide at his favorite water park where he sees something unexplained and possibly supernatural. It gives the story just the right amount of spooky unreality, a touch of deathly sunlit horror.

I loved this book and would recommend it highly.

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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