A Contract With God Trilogy (1978-1995) By Will Eisner Review

A Contract With God Trilogy
Published from 1978 to 1995
Books by Will Eisner

Review by Chongchen Saelee

Man, first off, what a depressing overall story. Will Eisner’s epic story revolves around the tenants of a neighborhood on Dropsie Avenue, somewhere in New York area. It starts out with the day to day living and MISERY of early inhabitants in early 1900s. Everyone seems to be miserable or suffering because of an economic depression.

The first book, “A Contract With God”, focuses on tenants and their lifestyles. Needless to say, most if not all end in very depressing ways.

The second book, “A Life Force”, is this amazing execution of interwoven stories between colorful characters. But the main protagonist is about an aging carpenter who just lost his job, yet again because of an economic depression, so in an ironic series of fortuitious events (dealing with mafia and bad questionally moral people), he’s able to make a living and build back his life and empire. Of course, it’s not without a depressing rise and fall, as the character is a tragic hero. In an attempt to respark romance with a girl he lost a chance to marry from his past, he helps her flee Nazi Germany, then attempts to leave his current wife of 30 years, and by the time the story wraps up, he’s back to living the life of a “cockroach”, as the metaphor is used to express the doldrums of living on Dropsie Avenue only to feed and copulate.

The third book, “Dropsie Avenue”, seems more like the grand epic about the eponymous neighborhood, and spans 100 years. Starting with the Bronk family selling it to the Dropsie family and establishing early on their attitudes with xenophobia, new ethnic groups moving into and taking over the neighborhood. And again masterfully interwoven with new characters and returning characters, we see how Dropsie Avenue flourishes into wealthy neighborhood, only to fall down into dumps, and ultimately literally collapsing on itself. And you’d think there was some light at end of that tunnel as returning tenants rebuild a new Dropsie Avenue, but Eisner wants to nail the message home that neighborhoods are only as good as the tenants, saying same tenant’s attitudes and power-hungry monsters always return to reproduce the same cycle over and over again. The one powerful image that stood out for me was seeing complete buildings demolished throughout the neighborhood, just looking like warzone. Makes you wonder how people can live like that, but they do everyday, somewhere, somehow.

To wrap things up, this must be my 3rd attempt to read through this trilogy, and this time around I think I understand it a lot more. Eisner seems to know a lot about inner workings of mafia and corruption, seems to know how all the scams and loopholes are executed in real estate business and how organized crime works. I suppose that level of detail gives the reader the omniscient perspective needed to see how tenants aren’t away that group of shady monsters are just out to use them. It wouldn’t have same effect if we only ever saw the tenants point of view and didn’t know anything about who was causing all their suffering.

I highly recommend this trilogy. It’s ultimately very depressing, but you will learn a lot about human nature and how some try to keep that light shining even in darkest of times.

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