Review by Frank Plowright
Joshua W. Cotter plans Nod Away as a seven volume series, and our review of the opening 272 pages concluded with the observation that any continuation would benefit immensely from a less leisurely approach to plot. This second volume runs to 368 pages.
Having set up a threat deep in space in Nod Away 1, Cotter seemingly ignores that by pulling the focus back to Earth. There’s the same artistic and narrative density, and while not entirely settling the matter of too many scenes being far more immersive and protracted than required, there is greater focus. Much time is spent at the start with unsuccessful artist Walter, rather a sad sack, although well meaning, and Aveline, French and free-spirited who’s able to twist him around her little finger.
It’s Walter who becomes the key character, seen at several stages during his life. Several years after meeting Aveline, Walter has inherited his parents’ farm, although that’s not the way everyone sees it, and while still just scrubbing by as an artist there’s an inner confidence that was previously absent. This is punctuated with interludes of an older Walter exploring a series of caves with definite psychological meaning. When events take a tragic turn Cotter moves into a consideration of mental illness.
Cotter’s art is exceptionally detailed and character-rich with a deep focus on detail matching his plot. It’s accomplished, attractive, and the abstractions are interesting. It’s also incredibly work intensive, and it’s been five years since the publication of the first volume, which makes his leisurely storytelling methods puzzling. Even allowing for setting a mood, this volume could be cut by somewhere between a quarter and a third without losing anything essential Cotter wants to convey, but the way Nod Away is supplied is divisive. For every reader who immerses themselves in the minutae there’ll be a reader lost because they won’t want to work their way through so much that’s not necessary. Toward the end there is a greater compression, along with greater mystery, and it’s one of the strongest sections.
It’s a continuing shame. Cotter has something to say, and produces an engaging progression pulling off the effective trick of making readers forget about almost everything that occurred in Nod Away 1, although there are connection points. The switches of mood are surprising, the advance from past to future natural and we’re left with a puzzle and a crisis and the sense of something bigger restored by the ending.