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‘The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head’ (review)

The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head
Written by David Gaffney
Illustrated by Dan Berry
Published by Top Shelf Productions
ISBN-13: 978-1603094153
Released 1/17/18 / $19.99


The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head is another graphic novel that I had never even heard of before.

Its back cover blurb tells the reader that it’s “a dark comedy about love, loneliness, accumulating baggage, and letting go.” Although written and illustrated by two males—David Gaffney and Dan Berry—the main character, Valerie, is a thirtysomething woman. Having several thirtysomething female friends of my own, I’ve watched them accumulate similar baggage over the years so I could relate in a rather odd way.

Valerie grew up playing the accordion, an instrument she still plays. She’s had her share of boyfriends but never really found “Mister Right.” As we meet her, she spends some quality time with the zombified ghosts of a number of her exes…even though they aren’t actually dead. Well, one is…eventually.

The deceptively simplified art reminds me at times of early Jules Feiffer done up in watercolor. It’s inviting and friendly and Valerie’s subtle facial expressions add much to her emotional state, which builds regularly in the reader’s head, throughout.

But mainly, what we’re shown is what’s in Valerie’s head. And who. She so much wants to find her soulmate but we see many of her beaus in flashback and find that they have their own quirks that never quite mesh with hers.

You feel a little sad for our heroine. As I said above, I’ve been very near these same moments with real-life friends and the familiarity is palpable. And realistic. But at the same time, seeing it all from a safe distance can be both amusing and edifying.

At the risk of sounding sexist, one of my favorite expressions says that any man who claims to truly understand women will tell you that women can never truly be understood. Gaffney and Berry make a valiant and somewhat successful effort at understanding at least one. Valerie is endearing and you want her to get what she wants but then you realize she doesn’t really know what that is.

Throughout her story, we meet a man with a prescription car windshield (ingenious!), a man with a fetish for blurry photos of women, a support group for people who die while pretending to die, and…well…there are also elves.

My very favorite line reads, “You can discover everything about your boyfriend by tossing a breakable object towards him.” Valerie’s heart is a breakable object, and we’re with her as it breaks over and over but she always bounces back…just like my wonderful friends in real life.

The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head is perfectly paced in both story and art and cultivates “the feels” in the reader. It’s not really one of today’s trendy autobiographical graphic novels, although it has the appearance of one. This is, instead, a lovely, well-crafted short story, deeper and more literary than it seems at first and filled with layers of both sadness and hope.

Booksteve recommends.


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