The Malaise Trap is an amazing character study (with a fantastic title…I love a clever title). So complete and well-considered is the narrative that I was convinced that I was reading an autobiographical account. Writer Jack Bracken has created a character that feels lived in and real, which is all the more impressive when one considers that this is a person defined by obsession. Obsessive personalities are one of the easiest go-tos for people wanting to score cheap sympathy or in need of a characterful short-cut. The Obsessive Loner stands shoulder to shoulder with other such two-dimensional supporting characters as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the Shy Quirky Indie Nerd.
But obsessive personality traits are very real, and can be extremely destructive; to both the subject and to those closest to him or her. Or they can be a boon. Countless artists and scientists and thinkers owe their discoveries and breakthroughs to obsession. The Malaise Trap strikes a careful balance between those who paths as we inhabit a person who has just become aware that he is at a crossroads (the gender of the protagonist is never mentioned, and not enough of the person is shown to make a determination. This choice allows the reader to project him or herself onto the protagonist. For this reason, and that of simplicity, I’ll refer to the nameless main character as a male). His obsession is collecting, but at some point that urge to collect has become an urge to hoard. He has been forced, for the first time, to confront the possible future that lies ahead of him, and make some tough decisions.
This book is very well considered, and Bracken does a tremendous job crafting a believable history for the main character. Artist Reid Psaltis does an equally great job with drawings that carefully straddle the line between realistic and macabre. Great brushwork, strong black spotting, and careful panel framing let the objects and props speak volumes. My only criticism is that the pages are VERY text heavy. And while this does make possible for the aforementioned method of not showing the protagonist while still allowing large amounts of information to be provided, it also creates some awkward panels. There are many great moments in the protagonists’ life that are mentioned that I would have loved to see depicted.
But that aside, this is a very strong book. For those of you who are interested in writing character-driven narratives, this is a great book to look at.