We can all tell stories of bummer childhoods, but try and top this.
David Small grew up in a house of non-verbal strangers. His mother was a woman of few words --- "The slamming of kitchen cupboard doors ... was her language." After dinner, his father retired to the basement to work out on a punching bag. David's brother was a drummer. David drew pictures.
When he was 14, David was taken to the hospital for a minor operation --- he had a cyst in his neck. Wrong diagnosis: He had cancer. He returned home with 29 stitches in his neck and only one vocal chord --- speech, for him, was nothing more than a croak.
But it gets worse.
David Small's father was a radiologist. And when David was young --- this was the 1950s --- X-rays were sometimes used to clear nasal conditions. David's father had zapped his son many times with 200-400 rads.
No doubt about it, David's father had given him cancer.
For the first few months after the operation, David Small told Eric Konigsberg, a New York Times reporter, "I took it as a punishment -- sort of this 'We've been telling you to shut up for years, now we're finally making you.'"
And for most of the next decade, David could hardly talk.
David Small was lucky. His parents took him to a psychiatrist who told him right off, "Your mother doesn't love you." At that, David dropped to the floor and hugged the doctor's legs. And in session after session, the psychiatrist helped David rebuild his self-esteem.
David Small went on to have quite a successful career. Along the way, he realized his childhood was slipping into his work. Better, he decided, to confront it directly. Stitches: A Memoir is that story.
It is a remarkable book, if, that is, you don't mind getting kicked repeatedly in the gut. It is also a beautiful story for a reason I've withheld. And I held it back to the best of reasons: It's told in images and text bubbles. That is, it looks like a graphic novel --- and so many book lovers just don't like them.
Let me put it a different way, in the hope you'll reconsider --- it's a movie. Or at least a storyboard for one. And, really, this story should be told in a non-traditional form. As Small notes:
I know now that the graphic form was the only way my memoir could have been told. First of all, drawing is my most fluent means of expression. Secondly, it's a story about being voiceless. It demanded a visual treatment because it involved so much of that guessing game we played in our family, of trying to figure out why someone was mad at us --- someone who refused to communicate by any other means than slamming things around. If told in words --- even if I could have --- the story would have lost that visceral impact.
Here's a sample:
Pain shared lightens the load of the sufferer. Pain transformed lifts the load of all of us. By that standard, "Stitches" is not just the most unusual book you'll ever read --- it's a public service.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]