Friday, June 5, 2009

Review: Dark Beginnings


Black and white static images with numerous dark corners make David Small’s Stitches into a terrifying retelling of a disturbing childhood. Small revisits his sordid past with his family in a way few can. Without holding back, Small depicts his formidable years as ones filled with echoless silence. Stitches is a graphic (literal) memoir about growing up in hell.

Small is still haunted by the first sixteen years of his life when he lived in fear of an oppressive mother who considered strict silence the mark of a good home. Small’s father, a physician, tries his hand at taking control of family issues only with disastrous and life threatening results. After a botched surgery leaves young David with almost no voice, home life nearly disintegrates until David finally emancipates himself from his captors.

Stitches is told in a gothic and macabre manner. Distinct blacks and whites throughout the images give the impression that Small sees his past in a similar fashion; there are good moments and bad moments and nothing in between. Other reviews seem to consider Stitches “redemptive,” but I only found anger poured into every page. I don’t get the sense that Small has truly come to terms with his past; he has, however, found an avenue to tell his readers about his origins.

David Small’s artwork is masterful. Each page clearly depicts the haunting images of Small’s memories. Many of the drawings seem akin to Eisner which is probably the gold standard for autobiographical artwork. Negative space, which is used abundantly, makes single moments extremely powerful and resonant.

Unless you are intrigued by Small’s artwork I don’t recommend reading Stitches. Memoirs are profuse among the bookshelves, and David Small adds another work to that already long list. Though I empathize with Small’s unfortunate upbringing, he doesn’t craft a singularly impressive composition that merits everyone’s attention. Perhaps, he has simply released the demons that plague his thoughts. And to that, bravo!

NOTE: Seeing as I am the one who reads comics I will try to write reviews of them when I can, but I plan on limiting my coverage to singular novels. Following serials would be too time consuming and often repetitive.

W. W. Norton & Co.
344 pages, Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-393-06857-3


Salvatore said…

That's too bad that this was a disappointment. I still kind of have trouble with the whole graphic memoir…for some reason it doesn't sit well with me. It sounds like it's not deep enough for a cartoon re-enactment, which sometimes are more deep than 'real' ones.

Kari said…

Stitches has been labeled THE book of BookExpo (BEA). I'm anxious to see what others have to say about it, particularly the opinions of people who got the advanced copy at BEA versus actual graphic novel enthusiasts.