More or less, your enjoyment of Jordan Crane’s Keeping Two depends on whether or not you think it is a compelling depiction of domestic life; whether you think that the central male characters in the comic love their partners. Connie and Will are a couple. Daniel and Claire are married. Connie and Will have recently come home from a road trip that has caused many arguments between the two of them, and both are in a state of reflection. Connie goes out to run some errands while Will cleans the house. Will has frequent flashbacks in which Daniel—who is actually a character in a story he is fond of—fantasizes ways in which his wife will kill herself after a miscarriage. Will, inspired by this story and troubled by the amount of time Connie has spent at the grocery store, fantasizes about all the horrible ways that Connie could die on the way to the grocery store. Most of Will’s fantasies revolve around Connie being killed by racially ambiguous unhoused people or drunk drivers. Most of Daniel’s fantasies revolve around Claire killing herself by hanging, shotgun, and the other usual suspects. Another aspect of the Daniel story that carries over is the depiction of the deceased as dotted outlines. In most of the Claire suicides, she is carrying the dotted line of the baby that she miscarried. Similarly dotted are Will’s parents’ dog, and Will’s cousin, who died of leukemia. There is, as well, a superstitious portent at the beginning of the piece: “Don't people die in groups of threes?” The instances of death that do not pertain to Will, Connie, Daniel, or Claire are used to contextualize the dotted line device as a thematic gesture, and to fortify the narrative tension spurred by the aforementioned portent: that death is a constant fixture, that the death of a loved one is carried around with us, and that life without someone we love is untenable, haunted.
The culmination of the Daniel/Claire plotline is a sequence in which Claire jumps off the side of a ship on a company cruise and Daniel jumps in after her, foreshadowing future events in the Connie/Will plot. The depiction of all of the instances in which these women die is quite grotesque. It is a constant, page-by-page reality of Keeping Two that women die violently. Not only is it violent that women die, or that the ways in which women die are violent, but also that their death is inherently violent to their male partners, who are left without them. Will also has fantasies about what will happen to him if Connie dies. In these fantasies Will has become an alcoholic, which leads to him being unhoused, which leads to him dying violently at the hands of other unhoused people. But—and this is the twist—Connie returns home after Will has decided, in his nervousness, to go look for her. She does not really fantasize about his death. She calls his cellphone, and Will gets into a car wreck partially because of the phone, partially because he’s been drinking, and partially because he’s in a state of anxiety. The most wonderful moment of the comic is the ambiguity of whether or not Connie is fantasizing about Will’s death or if he is currently getting into a fatal car accident that we are seeing in the mode of a flashback. However: he is actually dying. Connie pries his body from the wreckage. Will has a psychedelic hallucination upon dying, and then he comes back to life. In the hallucination he sees the interconnectedness of all things, but primarily his connectedness to his wife. She brings him back to life with her embrace. He says “thank you.” They eat takeout in the kitchen. The end.
If the dryness of this recap is any indication, I did not care for Keeping Two. I found its six-panel grids and its monochromatic (green and black) presentation dull. It uninspiringly depicts the ins and outs of life in a partnership with tense mundanity that offers little to no spiritual or personal fulfillment. It is well-drawn, to be sure. The cartooning is clear, precise, and accurate to its emotional delivery. The most clever gesture is the intermixing of fantasy and reality, but it sacrifices bold notions by clearly articulating which is which. It seems like the book relies on the reader being flippant enough with their eyes to not notice that the wavy borders are fantasy or flashback and the firm ones are capital R reality. I would have appreciated a bit more ambiguity, since the central tension of whether or not Connie or Claire are actually dead is dispelled by these borders. The climactic psychedelic sequence gets tired after a few pages, despite being a welcome break at the outset.
More pressing is the depiction of women and unhoused people. The only personhood any women have in this comic depends on whether they’re living or dead, being killed or killing themselves. Unhoused people are depicted as cruel monsters of fate that exist only to be a negative fantasy for Will, to kill him or to kill his wife. To become unhoused is a death sentence for Will. On the other hand, Will has no effective agency either. He is at the mercy of whether or not his wife dies. He’s not very much of a person, but at least he’s usually correct in his arguments against Claire. It is possible to argue that all of the negative things about this comic are justified when we take the perspective that it is a positional fantasy based on a specific form of living that generates visions of unhoused people violently murdering your wife, or that your wife is so pathetically grief-stricken that she cannot help but to violently murder herself any time she gets her hands on a sharp object or one minute alone. It is possible, as well, to argue that Will got all these ideas from the story about Daniel and Clare. These justifications could certainly vindicate the work, but I’m not interested in any of them because if we take it on that level then there’s nothing left in the comic at all. If we defang the reality of the danger of wife-death, there’s no point in what we’re seeing - its repetition, its compulsion, or any of that. We must imagine that the reality of a relationship between a man and a woman hangs thinly on the balance of your wife getting killed. Moreover, I don’t think this piece is so complex as to accommodate a projection of this kind. It mostly just sounds like something you would say if you like the comic and want to argue with someone who doesn’t. Nothing conceptually or aesthetically difficult is going on here.
So, is this love? Is violence, in its isolation and overwhelming frequency, the entire basis of Will’s relationship to Connie? To Daniel’s relationship to Claire? Is the whole nature of their relationship that one day one of them will die and leave the other alone with some sort of grief and guilt they could never bear? The trouble is that this is all Keeping Two has to say about relationships; you fight with each other, you are frequently uncomfortable in each other’s presence, but when you think one of you might die then you are then allowed to tap into your heretofore inaccessible sentimental organs such that the ultimate sacrifice of love can be made. For me, that statement is about as outdated as Crane's cartooning style, which leaves little room for ambiguity or interpretation, inspiration for life, or even the veracity of death. It is a comprehensively one-note performance premised on a dated phobia.