7 Miles A Second
David Wojnarowicz, James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook
Fantagraphics Books 2012
I ordered this book in June. It arrived two weeks ago and I already I’ve scuffed it up from my toting it around and constantly re-flipping through it’s large, color-soaked pages.
It’s hard to review this book objectively, or from a point of view of a reader with no familiarity with Wojnarowicz. I’ve been close to obsessing over his memoir, Close to the Knives, for almost two years. I bought and read his biography, Fire in the Belly by Cynthia Carr last summer and even had the amazing opportunity last fall to work with Carr in creating a presentation for lectures she gave in Los Angeles and San Francisco promoting the book. Somehow, I know a few people who knew him, but I haven’t pressed them for stories (yet).
I was expecting 7 Miles A Second to be, in short, a different package on a familiar product. I was very wrong.
While some of the text was familiar, I was impressed most by what wasn’t.
The stories that I knew already, like Wojnarowicz sleeping on roofs and in boiler rooms, once stealing knives with his friend and nearly robbing a homeless man who they mistook for a rich guy in a suit: these became so much more potent with James Romberger’s art and the wrenching colors of Marguerite Van Cook.
The art reflects but does not attempt to copy Wojnarowicz’s work, with circular cuts of imagery in Wojnarowicz’s symbolic language and saturated but never quite pleasing colors. Events, I assume from his childhood, appear in grey toned elements, undiscussed in the text, either in small boxes or blending into the page spread.
In my opinion, the book is broken into two definitive sections. The first is a cobbling of stories from Wojnarowicz’s years on the streets of New York, the second being his final years before his death.
Part 1 moves quickly; dreams and reality clash and combine into a messy but terrifyingly clear portrait of those years. The portrayal is unromantic and becomes progressively more hopeless. I finished part one with a feeling like I’d not only seen his dreams but had somehow been a part of them.
Part 2 begins in a relief of him having survived, only the reader must quickly accept that this is not going to end well.
In the first 3 page story (pages 40 through 42), Wojnarowicz seems drawn inward, readying himself for the end. From here on we see how hard it was to get there, the rage he had to release and repress to get to that mournful surrender on page 42, beaten by his disease as he was physically as a child.
From page 43 on, we see the rage, the inexpressible desires, the pains of loss, the relentlessness of time pressing forward to his end.
Part 2 is unsettling in a wholly opposite manner than part 1. Where part 1 brings the reader into this nightmare life, part 2 won’t let the reader pause any more than Wojnarowicz was able to pause. It all happens at once and not fast enough.
Love and death, rage pain calm storms light and much more darkness than ever before. Part 2 will not be pinned down. It is relentless until it ends.
It’s hard to believe this book is less than 70 pages long. It’s as powerful visually as it is in words, which is a challenge noting the strength of Wojnarowicz’s text.
I am left with the colors. Alien and all too natural. Van Cook did an incredible job.
Excuse me, I need to read this book again immediately.