“My, what a pretty outfit you found!” the cashier adds, smiling down at the daughter.
The interior/exterior tension continues throughout the day as mother and daughter go swimming, cook dinner and read a bedtime story, all suffused with the mother’s fearful visions of gas shortages, nuclear war and “dark figures roaming the streets.”
The book is at its most sublime in its wordless passages. If the documents are read in the order they are packaged, "Building Stories" opens with a brilliant, silent fugue that tells a story in images alone. The 52-page, long, skinny booklet at once covers a day in the life of the female protagonist while also tracking her child’s development.
The mother grows more pregnant as she lay in bed. Upon waking, her baby sleeps in her crib. When Dad leaves for work, he kisses a toddler. The day passes and the daughter grows older and bigger. By the time Dad comes home, he can barely hold the lanky pre-adolescent in his arms.
The four-dimensional mashup is an incisive play on the parent’s clichéd lament, “They grow up so fast.” Ware shines here, adding depth to a visual vocabulary that resembles our minimalist touch-screen interfaces and the bold infographics we share on Facebook.
As beautiful as these passages are, the characters’ misery can feel overwrought. At times, "Building Stories" lingers too long in human suffering. Ware’s books will not (and should not) ever end happily ever after – even the sprightly-colored booklet about a honeybee’s adventure contains lines like “A smothering blackness, a containment of nothing, yet everything all at once.” However, it would be refreshing to see Ware address joy with the same biting eye he has for angst.
Criticism aside, "Building Stories" is a triumph of imagination. Amid cheap disposability, Ware’s work painstakingly honors craftsmanship and originality. He is a rare breed, and his work deserves celebration and preservation.
Ware pines for print’s heyday, when information had a pulpy weight to it – a heft and sensation that electrons lack. While others lament the end of books defeatedly, Ware gives us tangible reasons to delay sounding the death knoll for the printed page.