Gilbert tips his hand with the title. Not three sisters, even though that’s the relationship by which Luba, Petra, and Fritz can be defined without referencing anyone else, and even though that’s what they call each other all the time (well, that or “thithter,” depending). No, they have something — someone — else in common. She’s present in the very first panel of the very first story, in which she’s posited as the source of Luba’s misery. She’s present in the pivotal, never-shown blowout that sunders the three daughters’ relationship. And she’s present in the sudden, shocking, utterly depressing turn of events that happens in the book’s final story as well — a lethal legacy hinted at here and there throughout the book (a strip called “Genetically Predisposed,” Guadalupe’s fond memories of the way her daughter’s dad Hector would insist upon their medical monitoring) but which finally blossoms as vibrant, larger than life character is reduced to skin and bones and eventually nothing. If this were another series altogether I would describe this everywhere-and-nowhere character as “the hole in things, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning.” Instead, we have another description: “I stayed to find the…the person inside that glorious frame, that…and of course the more I searched, the closer I got…?”
The inescapable ripples of long-ago events over which the characters we love had no control, and the ripples their own shitty actions send out, ensnaring others: That’s what hit me so hard about Three Daughters. Luba, Fritz, and Petra can have all the wacky sex adventures they can stand — they’re still paying for someone else’s sins in a way that can just clear the decks of their lives at a moment’s notice. Hundreds of pages of material about their zany complex romantic misadventures together brought to an end by an argument we never even see, a character we’ve known for literally decades healthy on one page, revealed to be deathly ill with stunning portraiture on the next page, gone the page after that. People two generations removed are still riding the Gorgo Wheel.
In The Book of Ofelia there was a knockout line about how God makes our lives so miserable so much of the time so that we won’t feel too bad about dying. As I’ve read Gilbert’s Palomar-verse material I’ve come to think this is basically the case. Once I talked about how unlike Jaime’s stage-like intra-panel layouts, Gilbert’s characters were placed unassumingly against backgrounds that went off in all directions. But by this point they’re stagey almost to an abstract degree, sometimes fourth-wall-breakingly so. It’s in these strips you can see the hand of these characters’ creators more than any others. The background, more often than not, is blank. It’s them and the void.