We live in a day and age when it feels almost impossible to tease out the truth from the discourse that swirls around it. In fact, ‘post-truth’ was even declared as the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries in 2016.
Today, alternative accounts of the same event float around even more than earlier, thanks to the power and reach of social media. The lack of trust has only escalated in intensity with the increasingly virulent political climate around the world. In a year when the Cambridge Analytica controversy swept news trends, it is only fair that the public ups its suspicion of and vigilance against powers that be. Nick Drnaso’s graphic novel ‘Sabrina’ is relevant against this backdrop. It is also the first graphic novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Sabrina Gallo, a Chicago resident in her 20s, goes missing suddenly at the start of the novel. We see Sabrina only in the opening pages but her disappearance looms over the rest of the narrative. She is later revealed to be a victim of a murder carried out by a gun-toting psychopath. Sadly, crimes of a similar nature are a routine enough affair in the West now. The murder seizes public imagination and soon, conspiracy theories hit the internet.
At the centre of the narrative are Sabrina’s partner Teddy, his friend Calvin Wrobel and her sister Sandy. The novel is about the way they become embroiled in a situation they had not signed up for.
Teddy leaves his hometown Chicago and escapes to his friend Calvin’s house in Colorado where he shuts himself in a room in the wake of the tragedy. His sole companion is a radio presenter, who is an advocate of the theory that it is actually the government that is responsible for everything – from 9/11 to the killing of Sabrina Gallo. The novel throws light on the power wielded by the mass media and how difficult it is for us, therefore, to differentiate between fact and fiction.
Calvin, an airman who just happens to be Teddy’s friend, finds himself the target of hate mail and death threats. So does Sabrina’s sister Sandy, who is caught in a storm of accusations and is not allowed to mourn Sabrina’s death in peace.
‘Sabrina’ raises pertinent questions about the times that we live in and forces us to reflect on them. It does not really have the contrivance of a formal plot structure. It feels rather like an account of what might unfold if this were to happen in real life. Yet, there is palpable tension in the novel.
Calvin’s daily mental health surveys serve as an index of his psychological state. As his anxiety and stress levels hit a peak, the novel too reaches an emotional crescendo and a sense of despair sets in. It feels soothing when, finally, Calvin emerges out of his plight and leaves Colorado for a new life. It is almost as if he and the other characters try to tentatively leave the past behind, even as they remain scarred by it.