There’s a good reason why Jordan Crane’s amazing new graphic novel, a gorgeous-looking book that comes with rounded corners and thick ivory paper, looks a bit like an expensive journal. Keeping Two is indeed a kind of diary, its narrative comprised almost entirely of the innermost thoughts of its two characters. Just as in a diary, nothing much seems to happen for pages at a time and yet everything does. The wild imaginings of this pair when they’re apart, emotional maelstroms that spiral exhaustingly like endless staircases, will lead in the end to an epiphany for them both: a rising gratitude each for the other that is symbolised by the sudden falling of swollen raindrops across each frame (an image that brought to mind the restorative arrow-shower at the end of Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings).
Crane’s characters have no names; they are a suburban Everycouple. When we first meet them, they’re at home, bickering about who will go out to buy supper and who will stay behind to deal with the dirty dishes. In the end, she goes and while she’s gone, he stands at the kitchen sink, his mind roaming, one thought leading to another, and on and on. He revisits an argument they had while they were out driving; he remembers a conversation they shared in which he insisted that deaths always come in threes; he ponders the impossibly miserable plot of a novel they both read. As the hours tick by, these interconnected and somewhat death-strewn notions begin to coalesce into piercing worry for his girlfriend. He misses her. Where is she? Why is she taking so long? Has something happened? Unable to restrain himself any longer, he heads out to try to find her, a decision that will ultimately precipitate the book’s final, transcendent scenes.
Keeping Two, which has been 20 years in the making, isn’t a straightforward read. Crane, an award-winning cartoonist, is ambitious for his medium and his narrative shifts constantly between past and present, fantasy and reality, with a speed that can be confusing; every page – every frame – is bathed in a bright, leafy green and this sometimes makes it hard to read characters’ emotions (after a few hundred pages, it’s pretty tiring on the eye too). But it also repays patience, its powerful climax at once deeply connected to, and utterly at odds with, the frustrating detours that precede it. If it is, at moments, about claustrophobia and loss, its larger message has to do with human connection: how we long for it and yet how easily we take it for granted. Crane suggests, without ever labouring the point, that the words “soon” and “one day” are, once a person reaches a certain point in life, not only weaselly but foolish. Now is the thing. Here is the moment. Sleepwalk through the present and you may find, when you finally wake up, that your so-called future is already long past.