Like boyhood itself, Coetzee's memoir builds slowly and sometimes painfully, erupts in unexpected climaxes and is most easily understood when the whol...moreLike boyhood itself, Coetzee's memoir builds slowly and sometimes painfully, erupts in unexpected climaxes and is most easily understood when the whole has been completed. Coetzee's relationship to the ever-isolated and isolating "he" never makes itself clear, and so the book becomes about retrospection and memory without hitting you over the head with self-indulgent musings on subjectivity and the fallibility of recollection. It's no masterpiece of literature--there are moments when the narrator's elusiveness perhaps stays too withholding and unwilling to probe, and when one wishes for a braver voice to take us through these scenes--but it's subtle and thoughtful in a way that many (most?) literary works of autobiography are not.(less)
Blankets succeeds in the most obvious and probably most important element of a comic: the art. It’s laid out readably and creatively, the ink work is beautiful, and Thompson’s characters are rendered exactly as they ought to be: they look like earnest cartoons of actual human beings, without the melodramatic pretension of a lot of graphic novels. The symbolic systems here also give the book a great visual narrative: the snow-covered trees, the appearances of biblical figures, and (most strikingly) the sort of deeply mythical, abstract spreads that pop up every so often.
What’s frustrating about Blankets is its narrative fits and starts. (I’m going to stay general to avoid writing any spoilers.) As other readers have mentioned on this site, the early bombshell about Phil gets ignored completely in subsequent chapters, despite how important it seems to be to this story. And Craig’s romance with Raina… well, there are a lot of pages in the middle of the book that don’t contribute a whole lot to either the development of their relationship or Craig’s connection to Christianity or much else. I get that that is, to some extent, the point: the book doesn’t wrap up if Craig doesn’t hit a whole lot of dead ends along the way. But especially given his perspective as a full-grown adult looking back on his first experiences with love, it’s odd that apparently insignificant details receive so much attention.
All that said, I found the book a pleasure to read, and found its length a virtue. Read in the context of the broader market for nonfiction comics, Blankets is a stand-out in basically every realm: its illustrations are spot-on, its narration gives a nuanced attempt to portray the author’s story, and it really admirably (I can’t stress this enough) avoids any moves to devolve into self-pity/-importance.
It's hard to rate the anthology as a whole for obvious reasons, but my favorite stories (roughly in order) were: -"The Cowboy Tango" by Maggie Shipstea...moreIt's hard to rate the anthology as a whole for obvious reasons, but my favorite stories (roughly in order) were: -"The Cowboy Tango" by Maggie Shipstead -"The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach" by Karen Russell -"The Netherlands Lives with Water" by Jim Shepard -"The Valetudinarian" by Joshua Ferris(less)
The book makes it boldest, most poignant statement in the 5-page "'Scared by the Smallest Shriek of a Pig, and When Wounded, Always Give Ground.'" tha...moreThe book makes it boldest, most poignant statement in the 5-page "'Scared by the Smallest Shriek of a Pig, and When Wounded, Always Give Ground.'" that ends the collection. Everything there comes together in a way that it doesn't seem to elsewhere, making the poem the perfect coda for a deliberately wide-ranging work.(less)
Sabbath's Theater has its virtues, among them a really interesting narratorial shift toward the end and its often excellent use of echoes, both from t...moreSabbath's Theater has its virtues, among them a really interesting narratorial shift toward the end and its often excellent use of echoes, both from the canon and remembered dialogue from the characters. But Sabbath is so obsessively, disgustingly driven by sex--a drive that takes up a good portion of the first half of the novel--that Roth makes it difficult to read this book as anything other than a sort of hijacked fantasy. Sabbath, too, is so bizarre and potentially delusional that I don't have much faith in anything he says. Untrustworthy narrators can be great, but when their perspectives on the world become so foreign and impossible to discern as to approach what we get from Sabbath, they risk transforming their stories into always-moving and ultimately meaningless vessels ("empty vessels", to use the metaphor Sabbath adores at book's end) for insanity and perversion.(less)