Actually, Birk and Sanders have a knack for the sort of urban-life simile that seems so well suited to any quest story, and could so easily become strained in less capable hands: "... I had that helpless feeling like when/ you've missed an exit on the freeway and every mile/passed seems wasted until you get turned around." Birk's fateful drawings include a flattering view of California Street from Nob Hill, and of the downtown skyline from Treasure Island, as well as nondescript near-pastorals of empty street corners, parking garages, and lonely back-alley staircases.
Tanner writes in the preface: "If the spiritual exists in life, this is where we'll find it, these drawings suggest. Either it's everywhere, or it's nowhere." As true to San Francisco as it is to the original text (and certainly unlike any other English translation), Birk and Sanders' book is rich and funny and wistful and sweet. And if you get far enough into it, to borrow a line, "it gets funkier." A tale, ultimately, of endurance, hope, and generosity, tempered with a deadpan, teasing parody of urban American life, this Purgatorio flatters the San Francisco sensibility (though not too much; we shouldn't be surprised to learn that the Paradiso belongs to New York), essentially by reminding us how close to home the story finally comes.