Lizzie's Reviews > The Greatest of Marlys

The Greatest of Marlys by Lynda Barry
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's review
Jan 17, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, comics, recurring-characters, read-it-at-bedtime, favorites, own
Recommended to Lizzie by: Nerd Christmas from Meg.
Read from July 11 to August 05, 2011

As this book is too big for my purse, and a collection instead of a novel, I experimented and made it a bedtime book. I kept it in my nightstand and read a few strips every night. RECOMMENDED. I can't go to sleep if I'm feeling bummed out, and turns out Lynda Barry is THE ANSWER.

The great majority of this book made me incredibly happy. SO HAPPY. The strips are lush with memory and detail, in something like the 1970's though it isn't said outright. They establish a group of five kids who are siblings and cousins, mostly under ten though one is a teenager, and every strip burrows deep in a simple, goofy event that reveals their funny, genuine relationships and imaginations, and the odd, reverent solemnity that kids invest things with. And/or the strip presents all of the dogs living in their neighborhood. Whatever.

All of the kids narrate in these incredible, blazingly authentic voices. I don't know how she does it. I personally have a deep and odd love for what let's call the creative grammar of us people, as talkers, and so this made me so happy. I wanted Arna and Maryls and everyone to say things forever. I wanted to be able to say things like them. Lynda Barry is five zillion times more gifted at writing truthful voice and language than most any playwright I know of, which is just my fancy way of saying, the way these kids talk is pillow-thwackingly hilarious and adorable. I wanted to scream, it was so good. So simple, it seems like anyone could write it. I loved it. It's the kind of talent I want to buy illegally on eBay and inject in my body.

I also came to really like Lynda Barry's drawing style, though I'm no expert on comic art. All I figure is that you can sort of see her living a creative philosophy, often publishing messy drawings with an arm drawn in two places. You get the idea, you get the feeling, so the job's done enough. Sometimes in context they're drawn down faithfully to the skills of an 8-year-old, but that's not really it. Also there's the fact that her characters are all ugly-cute — pocky and freckly and homely, and aren't we all. Whiny children look like oompa-loompas and yelling teachers look as mean as bridge trolls. (But Marlys has got those pigtails so what could go wrong.)

The only thing that did go wrong in this book was the late 90's. Meaning, there's about ten years of strips woven together here, and breezing through the lot of them points out a really huge attitude difference in the writing for a while. 1998 stuff is so different from 1988 stuff, which is totally normal, except for me the different was bad. There was a slice of them 4/5th of the way through where I thought the spell was broken. They kinda stopped making sense and telling stories. For a while, the strips stop being hilarious, bittersweet vignettes and veer first toward the declarative (which is still funny, but not narrative), and then the outright cynical. The declarative strips get weaker, and then the ensuing trailer park strips have this unexpected, critical tone. They get a lot more bleak, but not in a way that seems to lead you somewhere, in a way that is kind of putting people down. I don't know. I wasn't happy I was reading them. And then, it got better. The last 20 pages of strips bring back cousin Arna (I love Arna, I love Arna) and then everything is really, really good again.

4.5 stars. Rounding down for the weird notes, and that I think there's a lot more to get in a lot more books. I'm really, really glad to see there are so many other collections of these characters (and many of them with more focused through-stories), because I'm gonna be wanting to look at a bunch of those. A bunch. Of those.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Lizzie That is really cool to hear. She's really coming out of the woodwork for me. (Also, sometimes I can use the ouch.)

message 2: by Emily (new)

Emily Yes, yes! Her stuff is just the truest thing ever. I love it so.

One Hundred Demons is really good, too.

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