A graphic memoir turns the search for identity inside out as it illuminates the creative process.
This multilayered narrative might best be categorized as a “meta-memoir,” a memoir about the writing of this memoir. New Yorker cartoonist Finck (A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York, 2014) struggles to achieve cohesion and coherence within a story that remains something of a muddle for her. The artist within the narrative dubs this “a neurological coming-of-age story,” as she attempts to account for her lifelong feelings of “otherness” or “weirdness” and writes of losing her own shadow, which gave her some perspective on her life and some meaning to it. So she tries to keep returning to the beginning, with each chapter labeled “Chapter One” in a work-in-progress titled “Passing for Human,” something that the artist—or the artist drawn by the author—apparently feels she hasn’t done very well. Finck begins one version of this narrative with her mother, another with her father, and a couple with a soulmate who keeps on disappearing. Preceding each fresh start is an epigram—from the likes of Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson et al.—and within many of them is an earlier creation story, a myth, or a Bible story, one that might connect to her experiences. All of this continues to swirl through the artist’s head, reducing her art to a scrawl and her consciousness to a mess of darkness—until the epiphany, when the art itself becomes luminous, as the pages turn from white to black and the lines on them from black to white, and the artist has transcended, her “fears, unarticulated [which] gnaw at her like rats.”
In its ambition, framing, and multiple layers, this raises the bar for graphic narrative. Even fans of her work in the New Yorker will be blindsided by this outstanding book.