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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stitches -- In this autobiography, David Small's family members are bleak and nasty in ways Chris Ware never thought of, scarring Small (literally and metaphorically) for life in ways that would have sent Jimmy Corrigan off a rooftop.

For reasons we never entirely know (because Small himself only gets hints after his childhood is over), his mother and father are critical, mean-spirited people who seem to provide the bare minimum of physical necessities to him as a child, and far less of what any child needs emotionally. Dinner time is a thinly-veiled battlefield, and the next crushing blow to his psyche is always one misstep away.

There's no getting around the fact that Small's parents do monstrous things to him, either with the best of intentions or out of their own selfish needs and inadequacies as human beings. Despite that, the parents (the mother, especially) is given a bit of three-dimensionality through what Small eventually learns of her life, and if the information he shares is scant, it's no less real for its resonance with the way we learn about our parents in shadowy vignettes that never quite reconcile into a whole human being we can understand, relate to, or even like.

There's a narrative symmetry here that would seem forced and unreal if this were fiction, but the role Small's father's career ultimately plays in the events of the author's life become more terrifying the more you think about how easily any parent could make the same mistakes in some other, modern manner.

The novel is like a map of a destroyed adult's inner child, which makes it slightly miraculous that Small is a successful children's book author and apparently is happily married. He somehow rose above the horrific events of his life to make a better path for himself, and I suppose Stitches could be seen as a cautionary tale, when it's not being seen as a compelling life story or emotionally ravaging autobiography.

Small's art is urgent and elegant, with echoes of Frank Santoro's Storeyville scene-setting in some spots, and hints of the frenzied line of Jules Feiffer in the more emotional passages.

The places Small takes us in Stitches are not fun; the tension is high and the mysteries are many. The cruelty that defined his early life will stay with you long after you finish the story, but the true wonder is that David Small lived and thrived enough to bring his story out into the world. It demands to be read and reflected upon, and if you're a parent, I warn you: you'll never think the same way about your responsibilities after seeing how Small's parents handled theirs.



Blogger yomama said...

I can't thank you enough. Your comments about my book are inspired. I'm honored by your insights and by your sensitive read. They make me feel I probably did a good job.
Again, many grateful thanks.
David Small

19 August, 2009 20:57  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...


I'm glad to hear you liked my review, thank you, and thank you even more for sharing your story. It's a great example of how the uniquely individual can be universally resonant at the same time.


20 August, 2009 01:04  

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