Tuesday, October 22, 2019

#CBR11 Review #35: Blankets by Craig Thompson

CBR11 Bingo Square: Banned Books

I remember reading Blankets a number of years ago, and if I recall correctly, I liked certain aspects but didn’t love it. But having a copy on my shelves, I decided to re-visit it for my Banned Books square, after learning that both this novel and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home were challenged and subsequently removed from the public library in Marshall, Missouri, after complaints that the novels were “pornographic” and might be read by children. This began a series of discussions about censorship, and the institution of new materials selection policies to the library board, and the novels were returned to the shelves after less than a year being removed.

Blankets is an autobiographical story of Craig Thompson’s childhood and adolescence, dealing largely with his personal struggles with faith in an Evangelical Christian family, and searching for meaning and purpose therein. It also centers greatly on Craig’s understanding of love and relationships, in particular as he finds himself falling into romantic love for the first time. Though the story itself largely takes place during Craig’s adolescence, there are flashbacks throughout his past, beginning as a child and focusing on both the guilt and heavy weight of Church teachings, as well as his relationship with his brother Phil, and the guilt of them both being sexually abused by a babysitter at a young age. From there we also see Craig as a teen, meeting a girl named Raina at Church camp, and forming a relationship with her that involves going to stay with and meet her family: their views on religion and faith differ, and we see how this may be influenced by Raina’s feelings of responsibility in her broken family, and in taking care of her adopted siblings with developmental disabilities, as well as her niece. Finally, as this relationship runs its course, Craig has to make decisions about what he wants to do with his life, whether that be with Church involvement or as an artist, reconciling his faith with his experiences and what he really needs in the end.

This book is described as Thompson’s way of coming out to his parents as not being a Christian anymore. It also clearly depicts deep scars and struggles in his life: it is personal, and flowing and beautiful. The art, in particular, I find very visually appealing, dreamy, yet relatable and real. There is a quietness to this book, and it is full of heart and intimacy.

These aspects are all incredibly strong in this novel, yet I still don’t find myself loving it for a couple of reasons. The first is that the ending seems a little abrupt after the somewhat slow burn of the rest with its many sub-characters and plots, suddenly distilled down and tied off. But more than that, Thompson’s depiction of Raina just strikes me as a bit too muse-like. While it does give weight to Raina’s struggles in her own decisions and trajectory, by nature this story centers on Thompson, and in a way her character ends up feeling like a bit of a romanticized manic-pixie-dream-girl: broken but beautiful and perfect and instantly yours, but also never quite connected how you want her to be. I’m finding it hard to explain but the feeling is that we are kept at an arms’ length from Raina in order to preserve a perfect, fragile image of this young woman.

Ultimately, there are a lot of strengths in Blankets, and I do absolutely love the artwork inside. It is clearly a personal, introspective, and touching novel, so if you are into that kind of memoir-esque story based on real experiences, I would definitely recommend it.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

#CBR11 Review #34: Slade House by David Mitchell

Why not read a book about an eerie house during this spooky month of October? Turns out, I didn’t realize that this short novel was an offshoot story from David Mitchell’s larger universe of The Bone Clocks. I can’t help but feel like maybe had I already read The Bone Clocks I would have enjoyed Slade House more, but as a story itself it isn’t bad, and definitely made me interested to pick up the original book that this is a companion to because of it.

In any case, Slade House is a story that spans across five decades, centered on a mysterious house that no one has ever really heard of or seen except for one every nine years, when some special person (typically lonely or different in some way) is invited inside and never to be seen again. The residents of the house who do the inviting, however, don’t necessarily seem to think that their way of life can last as it has, and that sooner or later something or someone will come along to throw things out of balance for them.

Having read another novel earlier this year that deals with inter-connected time jumps focused on different characters, Midwinterblood, there was something familiar about the progression of the story and how it would cycle. There was also something really repetitive feeling about it: the way each section would ultimately go, the conversations had near the end of each one, etc. Of course, the cycle finally breaks to form a satisfying conclusion, but not having some of the inner knowledge of The Bone Clocks did make me feel like I missed something in the explanation at the end.

Overall, Slade House is a pretty quick and painless read, with some vivid imagery and characters that for the most part seem complete and engaging (though as with any almost anthology-like story, to varying degrees). As I said, I am intrigued to read more David Mitchell now (I did also love Cloud Atlas!), though for this book on it’s own, while a fun little adventure, I fear it may end up being a bit forgettable in the long-run for me.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]