REVIEWS: Broken Lines (2018)

A full archive of Broken Lines reviews. See also: reviews of earlier incarnations of Broken Lines


Broken Lines Is a Rollicking, Careening Adventure Unlike Any Other

With a bizarre plot, metafiction that breaks the fourth wall, and lots of visual candy, Tom Pappalardo’s Broken Lines is entertainingly unique. Pappalardo has written stories, essays, and comic strips and worked in graphic design, all skills that come to bear in Broken Lines. The plot revolves around a waitress, Maggie, and several strange characters whom she meets: a cowboy, a spaceman, and a frail, aged vampire. The four band together with a loose goal of getting the vampire to a distant town, while avoiding the firemen—agents of evil who start fires, not put them out. The plot could be considered secondary, however, to its delivery. Pappalardo breaks up passages of prose with illustrations, including photo-realistic drawings, photographs, fake ads, footnotes, quotations, and a massive number of different fonts in various sizes. It might sound like a bit much, but somehow it all works.
At one point, the somewhat ignorant Spaceman acquires a dog named Banjo, and their first interaction gives a sense of the character’s innocence, as well as Pappalardo’s ability to sharply convey humor:
“Who’s the dog?” Spaceman asks the only dog in the room. “You!” he confirms. “You’re the dog!”
Perhaps the most delightful section of the book stems from Pappalardo’s struggles to finish the project. When the author imposes himself on the characters in a food court, he recounts the creation of the story thus far: “I scribble notes for this scene on my porch in March, 2003 … Now it’s half past 2017. Fourteen years compressed into two heavily-revised paragraphs.” A few pages later, after informing his characters that they are, in fact, fictional, Pappalardo describes Cowboy’s reaction as “a dark and serious look, the dead-eyed stare of a Richard Scarry cat piloting a tugboat.” Such references are fresh, if esoterically resonant.
Broken Lines is most likely to appeal to Pappalardo’s own demographic—men in their forties who are familiar with pop culture and ready to poke some fun at it—but all will appreciate that Pappalardo has created a world, and a book, unlike any other.
– Peter Dabbene, Foreword Reviews


PROS: An engaging, gonzo novel with classic illustration elements and a large dose of silliness.
CONS: Sometimes the level of insanity gets annoying and you need to take a break.

Broken Lines is an illustrated novel by Tom Pappalardo. It is short for a novel, and peppered with illustrations, photo-manipulations, pop-culture references, and the occasional marginalia. Unlike regular novels, it also makes heavy use of white space and those illustrations to play into the pace of the novel and how it reads. They aren’t just things added on to look cool; they impact how the book is read and are part of the story, taking cue from Pappalardo’s graphic design background. It reads like the hipster bastard child of Burroughs’s Naked Lunch and B-list horror, if you took that hypothetical literary child, and then fed it several pounds of sugar and a few carafes of coffee.

The tale concerns the travels of a spaceman and cowboy, and the waitress they rescue from her burning trailer as they hunt down demons and try to return a non-sparkly old man of a vampire to his home. If you expect a serious adventure, you’re reading the wrong book. This is a bubbly, snarky adventure in the land of the absurd. It’s a pleasant read and a good escape, if you need a breather from the land of stories of dark dystopias or gritty heroes.

The references the book makes should be familiar to most of you internet denizens; though some of the graphic design elements may seem a bit esoteric, taking hints from everything from vintage advertisements, text-based computer games like ZORK, and early comic book art. They add to the story, but if you don’t get every reference it doesn’t matter: the book will still be enjoyable and fun.

If you enjoy gonzo and light adventures into the land of the strange, this is the book for you.

– Jessica Wagar, Bleeding Cool