The Eternal Smile

May 17, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads)

smileThe Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim


I’ll read pretty much anything Yang writes, thanks to American Born Chinese. It was such an impressive story, with strong themes and winding storylines, that I almost expect that of anything else he writes. Boxers and Saints had something similar, but The Eternal Smile skips over it entirely. I didn’t realize until after I finished it that the book was written before ABC, but when I started reading it, I thought it was a new work. That may have played into my expectations.

The book is made up of three stories, each about identity, and how we use fantasy to deal with reality. The first story is about a knight named Duncan who is attempting to win the hand of the princess of his kingdom. Somewhat clumsy and uninspired, Duncan gets some assistance from a mysterious character, and soon everything he wants is within his grasp. The problem is that Duncan is obsessed with something he doesn’t understand, and once he does, it brings everything crumbling down. The story sets the tone for the collection, but is ultimately forgettable.

The second story is written and drawn to look like a Disney cartoon, right down to its similarity to Scrooge McDuck and his nephews. The story has a darker tone involving religion that sets it apart, but that’s sort of the point of the story. It’s easy to get lulled in to the innocence of the story due to its style, but that only makes the reality of the story that much more shocking. That doesn’t make up for the sudden, unrealistic ending, but it does make an impact.

The third story seems to be the one people like the most. It’s drawn in a different style, almost like chibis, but examines the main character, a meek woman who is taken in on a 419 scam. Yang again plays with our expectations here, shifting the story in a different direction just as we think we know what’s going on. Narratively, this feels like the most significant story from the collection, namely because it gives us more character growth than either of the other two stories.

As a collection, it’s okay, but I kept expecting the stories to intertwine like they did in ABC. The fact that two characters from the first story have a cameo in the second made me think that would happen, but it turned out to be just a cameo. The stories are good, and are effective in their own ways, but anyone expecting something on the level of ABC or Boxers/Saints will be disappointed. Maybe check this one out from the library instead of purchasing it.

Started: March 25, 2018
Finished: March 25, 2018

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