What an unusual book. Even for a graphic novel, Leanne Shapton’s Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry is unlike anything I ever read before. I picked it up because Shapton mentioned Big Star’s song “Thirteen” in her Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay. Yes, that’s really all it takes. Anyway, this graphic novel is presented as an auction catalog, and chronicles the rise and fall of Lenore and Harold’s relationship through their stuff.
It sounds like it’d be kind of dull, but it’s rather fascinating. What Shapton has done is gathered the detritus of a relationship, taken pictures of it, and presented it to the reader to make of it what they will. It’s beyond totally awesome. As you flip through the catalog you see pictures of the couple, hotel keys, books they’ve given to each other, the clothes they wore, the notes and emails they sent each other, and most anything else you can imagine.
It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person by look at their stuff. It’s even more amazing that Shapton has managed to craft an actual story with plot, character development and all that good stuff through pictures of aprons, salt shakers, and books.
Through each page of the catalog we learn more and more about Lenore, a young writer for the NY Times who has a column called Cakewalk and Harold, a photographer who spends a lot of time on shoots all around the world. We learn about them as individuals and as a couple through the books they read, the music they listen to, how they spend their free time, and the plays they enjoy.
This is one of those books where you have to constantly remind yourself that it’s fiction. Sometimes it feels a little to prurient, too nosy. It’s as though you start to feel guilty for getting so close to this couple’s dirty laundry.
See? So awesome.
What I think I loved the most is that it all feels so real. Hal and Lenore’s relationship grows and disintegrates in the real, small ways in much the same way our own relationships have developed. There is no big, dramatic, literary explosion. It’s just real life. And real good.