“It’s a mystery of human chemistry and I don’t understand it, some people, as far as their senses are concerned, just feel like home.” That’s a line Rob Hudson (John Cusack) says in the movie “High Fidelity” and it’s exactly how I feel about Craig Thompson’s “illustrated novel” (his words) Blankets. Why yes, I did just quote a movie based on a book to talk about a different book. Thanks for noticing.
Holy buckets, did I love the hell out of this book. Thompson’s story (I think it’s technically a memoir) about coming of age in small-town Wisconsin with strict, religious parents is the kind of touching that punches you right in the gut. And its the kind of book that I love without any logic or rationality. I’m not sure if it was the setting or the time (early-to-mid 90s) but there is a sort of alchemy in Blankets that renders me moon-eyed and tongue tied.
Thompson’s story is not unique — rough childhood, falling in love, having your heart broken, rebelling against the strict tenets of your parents’ religion, discovering who you are — this is all well covered territory. However, Thompson brings a Midwestern earnestness to his story, a plain-spoken charm that transforms Blankets from ho-hum to holy crap that’s awesome.
Part of the awesomeness comes from the fact that Thompson’s is not self-pitying. Sexually molested, misunderstood, bullied, lonely, and yet never once does he come off as whiny or someone who relishes victimhood. Instead he presents these situations as matter of fact and allows the drama and emotion to come through using simple language and art. Two scenes seem to illustrate this perfectly. In one, Craig has just been a molested by a babysitter who then decides to tell Phil, Craig’s younger brother, “the funny joke” in another room. The guilt, the queasiness, the I’m-not-sure-what-happenedness of the scene is conveyed in a facial expression and some quivery “heh-hehs.” It’s heartbreaking.
In another, Craig talks about how snow gets that icy crust later in winter. He and Phil would have competitions to see who could walk across the crust without breaking through. Not only does he capture that delicious thrill and sense of tension when walking on that snow, but he ties it into the religion that dominates his childhood as well as the rivalry between siblings and competing with your own self-image. It’s amazing!
The art on the whole here really holds up its end of the bargain. It firmly places the story in time without Craig having to say, “It was March of 1994.” You need only look at the hair on the characters and the posters on walls in Raina’s (it’s a girl Craig falls for at bible camp) room to know where you are. Plus, I have to admit it was a lot of fun naming the posters (there’s Bjork, Kurt Cobain, and other 90s alternacelebs).
The language of Blankets isn’t too shabby either, but it’s the symbol, metaphor, idea of an actual blanket that steals the show. Never is it overbearing, showy, or self-conscious. Really, the whole book is just beautiful. So beautiful in fact that when I talk about it I start to babble incoherently and sound like I’m having an orgasm.
It was good for me, and I’d bet it’ll be good for you.