Review by Win Wiacek
One strand of Jeffrey Brown’s admirably varied output is confessional autobiography, which began with a merciless scrutiny of his Chicago art school years in Clumsy. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike. In the same vein, here’s Unlikely (or How I Lost My Virginity) – a True Love Story.
In both paperback and digital formats it describes a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled joy as “250+ pages of young love, sex, drugs, heartbreak & comedy” involving the long and agonisingly extended process of “becoming a Man”.
Creatively, there’s no straying from the formula established with Clumsy. This is another sequence of pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing how a meek, frumpy, horny, inoffensively average film-fan art-student – and long-overdue virgin – cautiously navigates his first fully-sexualised relationship with a girl. Every young man who’s gone gagging for it, gone for broke when the opportunity arose, and gone off to college or elsewhere to lick his amorous wounds has been through this, whether they want to admit it or not.
Brown’s drawing seems primitive, but closer inspection instead reveals economy. It’s deceptively effective in showing all that needs to be shown, while the accompanying self-deprecations generate both belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments. It’s a potent procession of crystallised moments that establish one awful truth: This is Not The One.
Through dozens of individual episodes with titles like ‘Things of Mine She Still Has’, ‘I’d Do Her’, ‘No, This is Jeff’, ‘Virgin Alert’, ‘Talking and, Talking’, ‘All Nighter’, ‘I Had a Weird Dream’, ‘Will you Still’, ‘Sex’, ‘Sweetness Frustration’, and ‘The Last Time’: a web of triumphant relief, fractious accommodation and eventually, inevitably disappointment and fresh awareness for Jeff and Allisyn.
Unlikely is a powerful delight for everybody who has confused raging hormones and intimate physical contact with love, and a sublime examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible. Brown’s tour of past romances concludes in AEIOU.