Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book Review: "The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow" by Rita Leganski

This is a beautiful story about a little boy endowed with a special ability that will save his family from their own painful secrets. Born without a voice, Bonaventure Arrow can hear everything, from the bayou grasses near his home in Bayou Cymbaline, to trees blowing in Arkansas, to penguins on the ice in Antarctica. But beyond that, Bonaventure can hear colors, feelings, faith; his mother's sorrow and guilt, his grandmother's shameful secrets, and his dead father speaking to him.  It is this special gift of hearing, combined with the help and guidance of a housekeeper who is more than she appears, that will allow Bonaventure to alleviate the pain of both the living and the dead.

The writing in this novel is superb, with creative descriptions of the sounds that might be made by things we cannot hear. For instance, the color red is described as sounding like trombones. The inventiveness in Bonaventure's communication, from extremely expressive facial expression when he is very small to learning sign and writing, is really something incredible. Additionally, the language in the story itself is beautiful as well as simple, creating the feeling of open affection for Bayou Cymbaline and its unique brand of southern culture. The words themselves, how they have been crafted together, is indicative of the characters' attitudes.

Religion, from voodoo and hoodoo to Catholicism and various revival churches, plays a large role in this story but skirts around the common problem of being preachy. Centered as it is in a place with such rich and varied cultural history, this novel takes full advantage of its location and Leganski does an incredible job of blending multiple religions and spiritual practices into (mostly) harmonious coexistence, focusing on their commonalities instead of their differences.

This book made me feel like a witness to something strange and beautiful happening to people outside of myself. I recommend this book to anyone who loves a creative story of monumental kindness and beauty and sweet selflessness that puts things back as they should be. Look for The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, by Rita Leganski, in your favorite local bookstore starting in March of this year.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: "Calling Dr. Laura" by Nicole J. Georges

A few years ago I stumbled upon and enjoyed the first graphic memoir I ever read: "Fun Home," by Alison Bechdel. It remains a respected piece of queer literature about growing up to realize you are homosexual, and the challenges with both family and self-acceptance that a person in that situation can experience. Now Nicole J. Georges brings you the next generation in lesbian graphic memoirs with "Calling Dr. Laura."

Set in Portland, Oregon, Georges's book honors us with an honest look at her life and at her as a person: her anxiety about finding lasting love, questions about her paternity, being abused when she was a child, and her mother's cycles of emotional manipulation, anger, and affection. But these heavy topics are skillfully tempered by the presence of a real sense of humor and some pretty sweet moments. Georges seems to embrace the stereotypical image of a vegan, hipster lesbian living in Portland, as evidenced by her jokes about vegan food (peanut butter cups are the only reliable recipe in her vegan cookbook) and lesbian relationships ("What did the lesbian bring with her on the second date?"). There is also a lot of love for dogs and stray chickens that she lets into her life and her heart.

Part of what makes me think of this memoir as so honest is the open depiction of uncertainty with romance, family, and self-identity. But another aspect of that honesty that I really liked was the fact that Georges openly admits to listening to conservative advice radio shows, and enjoying them! This personality quirk turns out to be very important to Georges, forming a turning point in her life and underscoring the idea that being gay isn't as important as being a person.

I found the art in "Calling Dr. Laura" both enjoyable and interesting. It's done in black and white, with lots of shading. Depictions of memories and childhood experiences are drawn more simplistically, without lots of the gray tones that are evident in the rest of the story of her adult life. That adult life and more emotionally charged moments are done with more detail and more complex artwork, so that the more intense the moment, the more complex the drawings seemed to be.

The story ended a little bit abruptly for me, but Georges thoughtfully offers a q-and-a epilogue of sorts about the lack of closure for some of the issues presented in her story. If you love grapick memoirs, are looking to read your first one, or are interested in a good-hearted memoir that focuses more on family and self-acceptance than sexuality, I recommend "Calling Dr. Laura," by Nicole J. Georges. Look for it in  your favorite local, independently-owned bookstore as of last month.