books, Friday Recommends

Friday Recommends: Stitches, David Small

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While in Maine last week, I (Ben) visited Sherman’s Books & Stationery and asked the bookseller at the counter where I could find Lane Smith’s It’s A Book. “That’s one of my two staff picks!” the bookseller said. His name was Bryce. Bryce didn’t take me to the kids picture book section (where I’d already checked) but rather to the adult humor section. Where exactly the book should be shelved has been a subject of some debate amongst booksellers, and it all has to do with the last line.

“You’ve got to read it,” Bryce said. “It’s brilliant.”

“I did read it,” I told him. “But my wife hasn’t. I’m going to show her. What’s your other staff pick?”

Stitches,” Bryce said. He walked me to it and put it in my hands. “It took me about an hour to write the blurb,” he said, gesturing to his shelf talker. The blurb was three sentences long. “It’s a pretty good blurb if I do say so myself,” Bryce added.

I showed Erin It’s A Book, then put Stitches back on the shelf. “Thanks, Bryce,” I said. “I’ll be back for that one later.”

Bryce clearly didn’t think I was coming back for the book ever again. But I made it a point to swing by Sherman’s about once a day to see if he was there. The first two days he wasn’t. I asked a bookseller when he’d be back in and she told me the following day.

“Your boyfriend wasn’t in again?” Erin asked when I got back.

“Excuse me?”

“Why don’t you just buy the book even if he’s not there?”

“Because he recommended it and I want to show him I meant it when I said I’d be back to get it.”

“Because he’s your boyfriend now.”

“Yes, because he’s my boyfriend now.”

Bryce was in the next day. I picked up a Times and Stitches and dropped them on the register counter.

“Good morning, Bryce. I’m buying Stitches.”

“Yes you are,” he said. He had a Big Gulp of coffee. “What’s your name again?”

I told him. “That’s right!” he said. “I was wondering when you’d come back. And then you did and you were all like, ‘Bryce!’, and I was like, ‘I totally forget that dude’s name!'”

I thanked him and left.

“What was your boyfriend wearing today?” Erin asked me when I got back.

I gave her this look.

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Stitches is a heartbreaking graphic novel of Small’s nightmarish childhood and his miraculous survival. Without giving away too many details, Small has two of the most colossally monstrous parents imaginable — and yet his portraits of them, particularly his mother, are fair and even, at times, generous. (An epilogue gives a bit more background about his mother’s health problems and other things Small learned only after she died.) His parents conceal a truth from young David, then deceive him to preserve the lie. Stitches is remarkably free of bitterness; writing from the vantage point of sixty-four years of age, Small traces how his brutal childhood also marked his beginnings as an artist. One wonders whether he would be the illustrator he is today if not for his harrowing youth.

But why take my word for it when you could just take Bryce’s? “A graphic novel of breathtaking cruelty and radiant redemption, Stitches is about David Small’s childhood and a chilling operation that left him mute and scarred but not defeated and broken. I’m tempted to call it the finest graphic memoir since Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I think I just did.”

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