Review by Win Wiacek
The search for transcendent love is a primal drive in almost every human being, but so are the equally obsessive passions to find one’s station in the world and accomplish great deeds. What happens when none of those quests seem to be progressing or, even worse, when they seem to be implacably at odds?
In 2013 Dino Pai’s stunning, Xeric Award-winning debut addressed just such thorny issues in an intimately candid and introspective manner. Solitary, intense, dedicated Dino has just finished art school and ponders where his now directionless life is heading next. His search for work and zeal for creation hasn’t left much time for a social life and he has developed a novel coping mechanism. Moreover, now that he’s on his own inspiration also seems to have died.
Somewhere Out There is a soulmate: His Girl patiently waiting to be found, but until that happens, Dino writes notes sharing his life, thoughts and dreams, folds them into paper airplanes and trusts the breeze and fate to take them to where they need to be.
One directionless day when he’s restocking supplies, he finds former classmate Cathy temping at the art store while she saves up for fashion school. It makes him realise everyone is progressing but him and he resolves to try harder to make and enact choices. And somewhere across the city, Cathy finds a crumpled-up paper plane in the street.
They meet again at an art show and her casually spoken neutral words somehow inspire him. Returning home, he stares at the picture of the beautiful Japanese pop star on his wall and starts to create a story: a comic strip tale of a boy’s journey. It starts with a siren song calling him. He hears and climbs through a keyhole, following ever-onwards through strange, perilous and uncanny regions. Along the way he encounters friendly animals who help him survive unnatural perils.
As the work laboriously nears completion it completely consumes Dino, but still, somehow, whenever he leaves his room and re-enters the real world, Cathy is there. Slowly his two existences drift together.
Crafted in a dazzling variety of styles, techniques and media, Dear Beloved Stranger superbly captures that all-consuming hunger for the indefinable something every frustrated would-be lover feels must be out there somewhere; translating that debilitating absence into a candid examination every person in search of human completion has ever endured.
Sweet, sharp, sour and ultimately enlightening, this is a story for all lovers, would-be lovers and lovers of what might be.