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An epic journey of self discovery that takes readers along for the (roller coaster) ride, Desperate Pleasures is M.S. Harkness’s most accomplished work to date, as she shows herself moving away from her earlier short pieces which tended to function in a more humorous vein, exploiting pathos for laughs. In its 200+ pages of crisp black and white comics, Harkness probes her psyche and unpacks some trauma while sharing an affecting tale of making a go of making a life, and in the process provides ample evidence that her developing cartooning abilities are in the midst of a “growth spurt”. Relationships lie at the core of the work. The difficulties in understanding them, establishing them and maintaining them. Desperate Pleasures also provides insights into how memory structures experience. Readers could be forgiven if they came away with the impression that she spends the bulk of her life in gyms and bars, on a bike or in bed – always accompanied by her mobile phone, of course.
Harkness presents her life as one driven by abreactive impulse, skirting the abyss ever in motion towards a goal that occasionally appears almost at hand yet continues to remain at the horizon. The “desperate pleasures” of the title are revealed, through the course of the work, as a cloak for the underlying quest for security and stability – not so much economic as emotional. Her quest is close to universal and one that her readers, while perhaps unlikely to share her methods will nevertheless share her goals and so be able to benefit from some of the hard won insights delineated in these pages.
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