Book review: ‘CADAVER’ is full of heart

“Cadaver: A Bittersweet Love Story” by Jonah Ansell
Illustrations: Carina Simmons, Eric Vennemeyer & Abe Dieckman
Publisher: Academy Chicago Publishers
Release: February 5, 2013 at Amazon; also available for pre-order

Cadaver-Book-JacketJonah Ansell’s “Cadaver: A Bittersweet Love Story” may begin with a love that transcends death, but the resilience of love is what lies at the heart of this whimsical little graphic novel.

Rough, hand-drawn illustrations in mostly shadowy, subdued colors are the perfect stylistic complement for this slightly macabre tale that opens with two first-year medical school students nervously confronting their first gross anatomy subject.

After taking a scalpel to their assigned cadaver and removing its heart, the students are stunned when the dead body on the table suddenly reanimates and snatches back his lifeless organ, screaming, “Let it go!”

Despite what current zombie fiction would suggest, this reanimated corpse is not hungering for a taste of human flesh, but begging for the opportunity to take care of some unfinished emotional business. He merely wants to say one last fond farewell to the beloved wife he left behind — the true owner of his heart.

Cadaver-Neil-YoungSoon the unconventional trio is making a clandestine escape from the morgue and embarking on a wacky cross-country road trip in an ancient blue convertible. When they eventually end up on the doorstep of the cadaver’s homestead in the aptly named town of Truth, Tennessee, the undead gentleman finally “learns in death what he did not in life.” But how will he be able to live his afterlife knowing this truth?

The book’s subject matter (love, death and reanimated corpses) may be too dark for children, but its whimsical rhyming poetry and engaging expressionistic artwork firmly positions it more in realm of clever fable than horror story. And although some cynics may miss Ansell’s point about the essential validity of love, hopeful romantics will be charmed by his book’s quirky tale of devotion, disillusionment, and resilience.

The story of “Cadaver” actually began life as Ansell’s light-hearted email poem to his med school student sister. The author later expanded this into a delightful eight-minute animated short, which won numerous awards at film festivals across the country, and then eventually turned it into a graphic novel.

Cadaver-grinAnsell claims that “Cadaver” is “a battle of romantic versus cynic, of how love inspires versus how love exploits. [T]he net sum of my thirty battered years of falling into and out of love. Of having my heart crushed. Or discovering I was crushing someone else’s.”

The animated short stars the voices of Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future”), Academy Award winner Kathy Bates (“Misery”), and ROOKIEmag.com’s editor and fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, who also performs a haunting rendition of Neil Young’s 1972 Billboard #1 hit “Heart of Gold” for the film’s soundtrack.

According to the author, anyone who purchases “Cadaver” will be able to view the film short online as well.

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