Friday, January 1, 2010

the languages of silence & pictures

Happy New Year, gentle blog readers!

Today's recommendation is the 2009 graphic novel Stitches: A Memoir by David Small.

Although I have no excuse for engaging in such shoddy linguistic practices, and offer this with the caveat that I'm not a linguist, I find it fascinating that Bildungsroman begins with Bild (meaning picture); that Bild is, in a sense, the beginning of Bildung (accumulation, creation, cultivation). Pictures accumulate to tell the story of someone's coming of age. Thus it seems apropos that so many recent memoirs have taken the form of graphic novels. That the graphic memoir is itself a renowned genre certainly says something positive about the increased critical attention given to visual media in recent years; I like to think this also bears out my explication of Bildungsroman.

I have to admit, my pure and unadulterated love for Blankets
, another graphic memoir - perhaps one of the best books of that decade that supposedly ended last night - was what drove me to Stitches and I think I ended up unfairly comparing the two. I could not read Stitches without assessing it in the shadow of Blankets.

The similarities between Stitches and Blankets are at once unsettling and fascinating; I can't tell if this is an imitator or the similarities are characteristics of troubled young men who turn to art as a form of expression. Both books depict the authors as children, escaping from upsetting home life situations by creating; both engage to some degree in a pastiche of the cultural images that surrounded the authors at early ages, demonstrating the dream-like, highly visual existence and imagination of young children.

Stitches recounts Small's early childhood and adolescence in what is revealed as a severely dysfunctional family. You think your family was bad? Small's family can top yours. I think the book jacket itself unfairly reveals too much of the story, and that it would have more impact if the jacket writers themselves left more to the imagination, so I won't say much about that, but the drawings and story together recreate a sense both of the mid-20th century and the utter fractiousness and confusion of Small's early existence. Where Blankets is beautifully structured and develops on several themes, Stitches is in places sort of an anarchy. The story itself is imbued with temporal distance, and the omniscience of the narrator alienates the bizarre occurrences in the story even more. That the structure is not so carefully plotted becomes a credit to Stitches' mimetic power. Blankets is a simple love story, pure cinema on paper; Stitches is a recreation of the senseless pain and confusion most of us get. Stitches reads like a science fiction or horror story. What I loved about Blankets was how real and full the story felt (at almost 600 pages, it better feel full); what fascinated me about Stitches was how much was left unsaid, how much of the story remained caught in gaps or written between lines. In a sense, the narrative itself is stitched together; events connected only by their mediation.

I think I've already recommended Blankets. If not, I'll recommend it again. Now and maybe later too! But today's recommendation is the more problematic and troublingly haunted Stitches.

1 comment:

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