Review: Stitches: A Memoir by David Small

Stitches: A Memoir is my second ever experience with a graphic novel. My first, a flu-induced bedridden weekend and a copy of The Complete Sandman by Neil Gaiman. And let me tell you, if you’ve never read The Sandman graphic novels, that is some dark business. Dark, and wonderful. However, even though I enjoyed The Sandman, I just never really thought graphic novels were my thing. Probably because anime and manga also came to mind, and having read those, I KNOW those aren’t my thing. But, tonight I was culling my TBR pile, as I’m not going to be able to get to the library tomorrow, and I came across this book, which I bought when it was assigned for a contemporary literature class. And, I decided, why not. I’d probably be able to get through it quickly enough.

I got through it. Oh yes, I got through it. I practically inhaled it. It was less than an hour, start to finish, I would say. And it was a whirlwind of an hour. I’ve seen this book described as a “tragicomedy” by a number of reviews (yes, I’m a little late to this bandwagon. Par for the course, I’d say). But I didn’t see it. All I saw was tragedy. And a pitiable circumstance. But also a brave boy to have survived through something like this. At it’s heart, this is a story about a broken family, in an oppressed time and culture, who didn’t know how to love their son; and, of course, it’s about their son, who learned to love regardless. It’s a memoir, which is the first time I’ve ever read a non-fiction genre of graphic novel (considering it’s only my second, that shouldn’t be surprising. 😀 ), and I loved it. Which is to say, I loved David Small. Not only was his story heartbreaking and scary (how could a parent do that to their child? How can we not pity them?), but his ability to illustrate it with such beautiful, sparse artwork only echoes the feelings of sparsity and claustrophobic stoicism that runs throughout the novel.

Stitches tells the story of David Small’s life, growing up in a midwestern town of industry, with a father who is a doctor and a mother who stays at home with the children. But this is far from the happy family unit that it might appear to be on the outside. This is a family where the mother spends her entire life enraged and bitter, lashing out at her family **SPOILER** because she’s a closeted lesbian who can have affairs (with the nextdoor neighbor), but never a full life of love. ** END SPOILERS**. This is a family where the father, believing the medical science at the time, repeatedly exposes his son to X-rays in an attempt to help cure him of some sinus problems. This, while sad, could be understandable, given that the father was just following what he knew to be appropriate medical procedure at the time (this story begins in the early 1960s). However, the incredibly outrageous part (by which I mean I was outraged) **SPOILER** was that David then ended up developing cancer in his neck/throat and has to have part of his vocal cords removed, which leaves an incredible scar and permanently alters David’s life. And the even more ridiculous part? THEY DON’T TELL HIM. They tell him the mass on his neck is just a ‘growth’ that needs two surgeries to remove. I find this, I have to say, unforgivable. **END SPOILERS**

I wish I could throw this book at every person I pass. I handed it to FBM literally minutes after finishing it and, half an hour later, he was done. That’s how absorbed he was. In all fairness, it took me about an hour, but FBM is just a freakishly fast reader! If you’ve read this book, PLEASE let me know, because I’m dying to talk about it, and I have to say that it was a totally successful first attempt at graphic novel reading. Not only was the artwork beautiful and fitting, but the frequent interludes of only illustrated narration really helped me figure out my own way of ‘reading’ graphic interpretations of narrative structures. I’m hoping this will come in really handy because I just picked up The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle by Patrick Rothfuss from the library, and I’ve heard such great things about it that I can’t wait to get started.

Speaking of the library, I just got back with a HUGE haul so you can be (finally!) expecting my second Library Loot vlog sometime within the next few days. I picked up close to 30 titles on this last trip, so I’m going to do my best to keep it short, but I got such a good mix of old and new, adult and YA, fiction and non-fiction, that I may just have to spend a little bit of time ranting about just how beautiful they all are! I’m still plugging away at the R.I.P. Challenge, adding more and more novels where I can, as my short story reading actually seems to be outpacing my novels, for once! I’ve also taken up  The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells for the Dueling Monsters challenge, and as I’ve already got Cthulhu under my belt, you can expect reactions on both of those before too long! And that, my fair friends, has been an update on things going on in my reading life. Hopefully, whatever you’ve got going on, it’s happy reading times for all!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kailana
    Oct 02, 2011 @ 10:45:57

    Wow, only two graphic novels. You have so many good ones to try at some point!


  2. Nymeth
    Oct 02, 2011 @ 12:20:57

    I’ve been meaning to read this ever since it came out – I can’t believe I still haven’t! Also, what Kelly said. The GN medium is so varied that I really think there’s something for everyone.


    • Chelsea
      Oct 02, 2011 @ 16:28:12

      Both of you – I’m open to any great GN titles you may have! I’m feeling like jumping in more to the genre, but I’m not sure where to start!


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