Monday, July 11, 2011

Books that make me cry

So! Books that make you cry, everybody. Old Yeller, am I right? The Yearling? Please, please just be a good deer and stay out of the vegetable patch! my ten-year-old-self would beg, but that's the nature of deerness, right? The scene in Little Women when Beth eats it! Sometimes when I'm feeling super sorry for myself, I cue that up on Project Gutenberg and then sit there with my lip quivering, getting all misty-eyed.

But what book really makes me cry - like, full-on, snotty, wailing - is Chris Ware's graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth. And if this book doesn't make you cry (or, for the more stoic among us, have to swallow hard a few times and stare off into the distance) you are a robot or a zombie.

Jimmy Corrigan, a sad-sack middle-aged man drawn to look sort of like a giant baby, is slumping through the days of his life when he gets a letter and a phone ticket from his father, whom he's never met. Corrigan takes off to visit his dad and meets his adoptive sister. And then life being life, things go wrong. Interspersed with Jimmy's story is the story of his grandfather, a morose and motherless little boy being raised by his distant and cruel father in World Fair-era Chicago.

Jimmy Corrigan is a chunky little book with simple, yet intricate drawings done in a flat, four-color, Sunday comics style. You may need a magnifying glass to catch all of the detail of the tiny drawings.

Why is Jimmy Corrigan so affecting? I don't know. Ware's people are little bean shapes, and he captures expressions perfectly, devastatingly, in their little faces: when Jimmy's mother's one-night-stand sneaks out, when his grandfather's one friend turns on him in elementary school. The tiny pictures mean that you have to put your face really close to the page and squint, and Ware slyly plays with the conventions of comic strips in a way that makes the contrast between the simple drawing style and bright colors and the wrenching story even more stark. And it's sad, it's so sad, miserable Jimmy and his faltering father and their mostly-too-late reunion. Jimmy is kind-of-sort-of autobiographical - Ware met his father for the first time as an adult, and drew Jimmy Corrigan as a comic for a Chicago newspaper, although his interaction with his dad was limited to one awkward dinner before his father succumbed to a heart attack.

Jimmy is perhaps not a remarkable story in its hurts, large and small, but Ware's little drawings are extraordinarily affecting, from Jimmy's bizarre and disorienting dreams to his tiny, sad boy-grandfather.

1 comment:

  1. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett is the only book in the last 20 years? that has made me sob like a baby - I think I don't deal with 'frustration' or 'futile' very well.