Luna Park was published in 2009 and tells the story (well, kinda tells the story) of Alik Strelnikov, an American-Russian citizen trying to get his share of the American Dream. At the start of the story, Alik works as a hitman during the day and spends his nights with Marina, remembering his past experiences in Russia and getting high on heroin. This is the first-layer of the storytelling of Luna Park; Alik’s continuous dwelling in his memory functions as the multiple underlayers, the bits of story we get along the way that only begin to make complete sense by the end. In many ways, Luna Park is a phenomenal example of carefully constructed storytelling, and I have to show my appreciation for that before anything else.
On the visual side, Luna Park is beautifully drawn and colored. It tells the dark, dreary story of the narrative better than the dialogue most of the time. The shifts in coloring between panels not only indicates the movement from present to memory, they also have a way of showing the circuitous nature of Alik’s life in way that the trajectory of the story tends to do through often heavy handed means. Although I didn’t love the story of Luna Park, I could look at Danijel Zezelj’s work all day.
My primary problem with this book is difficult to talk about without ruining the story, but I’ll do my best. Baker’s narrative is deeply concerned with that old idea of history repeating itself, which, at its core, is really a concern about fate. And in order to explore these ideas, Baker needs to, understandably, work with multiple, intrinsically connected narratives, but this dealing with the multiple ultimately comes across as a bit sloppy and contrived. I’ll admit, I’m a bit turned off to the “it all ends the same” kind of story ever since reading The Dark Tower, but the way Baker takes us there ends up being an overly disheveled road with a too-easy ending.
In a way, I wish Baker would’ve stayed with that first level of the story, Alik’s current life and struggles. It has the makings of a powerful and emotionally gripping story, but because he moves away from it so quickly in order to get at the larger stuff he’s trying to do with fate and history, that first story comes off as incomplete and underdeveloped. Baker’s attempts to solve this problem is by paralleling this first incomplete story with a host of other incomplete stories, and I totally get this on a theoretical level. But appreciating something on that level and enjoying it aren’t the same thing for me, and at the end of the day, I just didn’t enjoy Baker’s story. Just like Ulysses, I can totally give it a thoughtful nod and pontificate about narrative construction this and plot structure that, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy the book (and if Joyce is your dude, just know that I’m not trying to bag on you or him. He’s just not the one I turn to when I want to really enjoy my reading).
I give Luna Park two slices of lasagna out of five.