What happens to you when your child dies? “You fall,” writes cartoonist and bereaved father Hart (Sequential Art/Univ. of Florida), “into a hole.”
Scarcely out of toddlerhood, Rosalie Lightning, her memorable name suggestive of the brevity of life, passed away to a sudden illness. Hart and his wife, Leela, a writer, had stumbled into parenthood without being quite prepared for it, as if anyone ever is. Both were living the lives of poor artists, though that was not strictly by design, since, as Hart’s story reveals at some length, they were being blocked from selling a New York apartment by a building board that thought the price too low. Without calling them by name, the author writes of their passing through the stages of death—denial, anger, paralyzing grief—after Rosalie’s death; if lying on the grass and staring into the middle distance won’t get you through the worst patches, he suggests, there’s always Roland Barthes. Hart’s mood is often bitter, not just over Manhattanite greed, but also over such things as paying for his daughter’s cremation with a debit card “like I’m buying a bag of bananas.” The faux-naif drawings are crude and impressionistic, somewhat reminiscent of half-finished panels by Harvey Pekar or Gilbert Shelton, but the story is well-rounded and profoundly affecting. It risks being thought insensitive, given all this, to wish that it ran shorter; grief is endless, but at times, it seems that Hart’s book is as well. The New Age–ier moments are the most dispensable: “Everything is a message. Everything beautiful is her.” Nonetheless, anyone coping with such loss—meaning a vast readership—will find Hart’s expression of pain and heartache to be entirely understandable and entirely appropriate.
A bracing, deeply saddening journey into death and loss whose wryly affirmative resolution, “joy breaking through the storm clouds,” is nothing but hard won.