Comic book memoirs and family secrets

Several talented cartoonists have used comics memoir (also called graphic memoir) to chronicle their family stories. Alison Bechdel has rightly received much acclaim for her books Fun Home and Are You My Mother? which closely examine her relationships with her father and mother respectively. Below are several more comics which deftly explore complex familial relationships.

YNN3 cover imageYou’ll Never Know Trilogy by C. Tyler

Over the course of the You’ll Never Know Trilogy, Tyler explores her relationship with her father by examining his traumatic World War II experiences and how they shaped her childhood. Tyler also details her present day relationship with her parents and the challenges she faces in raising her own daughter. Lush watercolors and innovative design frequently give the books the feel of a personal artifact or family album. Continue reading “Comic book memoirs and family secrets”

What’s Funny, Part 2: Dysfunction — how bad is it?

The time for labeling and loving books about “dysfunctional” families is past. Readers have moved on, having acknowledged that no family is actually “functional” and that’s okay. Now we want to read more exciting dysfunction stories: we need more drama, more humor, and more action. We might throw in a little horror and suspense like in the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; or maybe some literary heartbreak as in Father of the Rain by Lily King. But when times are low many of us long for a good old-fashioned Archie Bunker dysfunctional family you can just laugh at. (If you don’t know the show, think “Family Guy”) If you enjoy Southern humor, try Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. CeeCee is a victim of her mother’s insanity and is “saved” by wealthy Aunt Tootie and her servant Oletta who are the original Southern odd couple. It’s a funny book with serious implications: will a girl who throws slugs into her neighbor’s yard ever make Southern belle-dom?

Speaking of the products of a screwed up childhood, what about Johnny, the puzzled writer in Requiem, Mass by John Dufresne? Johnny’s father’s a bigamist with several families; his sister lives inside her imagination and his mother is convinced her children are alien changelings. Sounds like sheer slapstick with a pinch of surprise dysfunction. And remember the “find family where it is” phase, starring Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees and Billie Letts’ Where the Heart Is? Presenting Family Man by Elinor Lipman! Anything by Elinor Lipman will be full of silly dysfunction pushed to the max, making you laugh ruefully. In Family Man, Henry Archer, divorced gay man, reconnects with his ex-wife when her new husband dies and rediscovers his stepdaughter in an amazingly improbably coat check scene. What makes this admittedly dysfunctional family so lovable is the author’s talent for characterization. Henry is a real sweetie looking for a family, his ex is barmy and his daughter is lovably naïve: perfect conditions for a happily offbeat family.

In Addition, by Toni Jordan, Australian teacher Grace Vandenburg spends so much time with her counting routines that life is getting squeezed out. She counts everything, schedules excruciatingly exact time periods in which to accomplish tasks and even counts poppy seeds on her cake, allowing only a set number for each bite. This is dysfunctional and it must stop – because Grace has a new boyfriend, Seamus, who won’t take no for an answer. Seamus tries to help Grace kick her OCD by seeking help in some of the most poignant and hilarious ways: it makes you twice about pharmaceuticals vs. dysfunction! Are you functional if you think you are?

See also: What’s funny? (Part one)

The Women

“Anger and resentment can stop you in your tracks. That’s what I know now. It needs nothing to burn but the air and the life that it swallows and smothers. It’s real, though – the fury, even when it isn’t. It can change you… turn you… mold you and shape you into something you’re not. The only upside to anger, then… is the person you become. Hopefully someone that wakes up one day and realizes they’re not afraid to take the journey, someone that knows that the truth is, at best, a partially told story. That anger, like growth, comes in spurts and fits, and in its wake, leaves a new chance at acceptance, and the promise of calm. Then again, what do I know? I’m only a child.”

I love the stories you read and the movies you see that remind you of your family. Although I’m an only child my mother was one of four daughters and with that came a plethora of cousins, as well as, my grandmother on my father’s side who is one of six sisters! On holidays and birthdays whoever is hosting has a packed house with the sounds of laughter and the smells of home cooking. The women in my family are the home and they are stubborn, proud, and strong.

The movies and books below call to mind some of my favorite family traits:

In the movie The Upside of Anger we meet Terry Wolfmeyer, played by Joan Allen, and her four daughters, Andy, Emily, Hadley, and Popeye. After realizing Terry’s husband has left the family to go off and live in Sweden with his secretary the-all-together-all-the-time suburban housewife is no more. She is angry and sad and lets everyone know it! As her daughters are not only dealing with this new side to their mother they are also at a loss at to why their father left them. One by one they go on about their lives making mistakes, finding out who they are, and all together trying to stay afloat. Terry soon finds camaraderie and comfort with her neighbor an ex-baseball player turned radio DJ, Denny, played by Kevin Costner, and as things begin to turn around the truth of why their father left is revealed and the question is: Is it to late to continue with the lives they had all been living and still hold on to each other?  Continue reading “The Women”

Parenting in the Wired Age

Parents today have so many networks and resources available to them. It can be daunting, but it can also be reassuring.

There are so many decisions to make, so many styles to choose from. Do you breastfeed or bottle-feed, or both? What bottles should you use? Cloth or disposable? Co-sleeping or crib? Those first months as a new parent can be so overwhelming. What helped me? Books and blogs.

Reading about how other parents made the decisions they made, how they prepared for birth, grew into their mother or father roles, and what informed their choices around parenting helped me not feel so overwhelmed or alone.

But one thing that I didn’t expect as a new parent was Continue reading “Parenting in the Wired Age”

Daddy’s Little Girl: Extreme Edition

Being a daddy’s girl myself, I find the dynamics between fathers and daughters very fascinating. We rely so heavily on them to help mold us into the women we will become and when they are not there or depend on us too much it can affect us for the rest of our lives.

These are not the picture perfect father and daughter stories, but rather the odd eccentric versions of them:

The movie Dreamland takes place in a trailer park in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Here we meet Audrey, a young woman struggling to find her place in the world, choosing to take care of everyone around her rather than fulfill her owns dreams. Her father is an anxiety ridden hermit who refuses to move forward with his life after the death of his wife, Audrey’s mother, Audrey’s best friend Calista suffers from multiple sclerosis and spends her day fantasizing about becoming the next Miss America even though she might Continue reading “Daddy’s Little Girl: Extreme Edition”