“Stitches” is a dark, dark fairytale that happens to be the true story of the author's childhood and coming of age. Marketed for young adults, the book left thoroughly grown-up me with my jaw agape.
Small grew up in Detroit in the 1950s, his father a radiologist and his mother the proverbial angry housewife, tight-lipped and more concerned about saving money than her two sons. Nobody in the house spoke much, but Dad spent a lot of time hitting a punching bag in the basement, his brother banging his drum-set, and Mom slamming cupboard doors.
David alone was quiet and, in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction development, comes down with throat cancer that requires surgery that renders him literally speechless. Then – life layering on the symbolism -- it turned out the cancer was caused by radiation administered by his father to cure breathing troubles.
David’s upbringing seems to take place in a house of horrors; his grandmother even goes murderously crazy. This atmosphere is heightened by the way David depicts his parents, always wearing mad-scientist glasses that seem to obscure both their eyes and their humanity.
I usually find both dream sequences and therapy sessions trite in either movies or novels, but Small uses both to unique effect. He depicts his rather stern analyst as Alice’s White Rabbit. And when the Rabbit delivers his zinger insight, I cried for two solid pages.
This is a sophisticated book with sophisticated themes including insanity and sexual repression. For teens and adults, it’s also an inspiring story about resilience and forgiveness. In the end, Small writes, it was art that gave him everything he had wanted or needed.