Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 13, 2010)
Hardcover, 336 pages
“My mother died in 1970, age 58. Maturity, reflection, and some family research have unearthed a few facts, which give a slightly different picture of this taciturn and difficult person. Her physical problems were beyond what I could imagine or understand as a child. Because nothing in our family was ever discussed outright, I only became aware of them years after her death.”
Set in Detroit, Michigan, this autobiography of the semi-famous artist David Small. The author’s family, while seemingly successful on the surface, was a crucible of repressed desires and suppressed hate. The author had respiratory problems as a child and his father, a radiologist, attempted to cure it through x-rays and radiation therapy, which was a common practice back in the day. At fourteen he discovers a lump in his throat, which his parents let go for three years, until it is absolutely necessary to remove. By then it had developed into full blown cancer, and required the removal of his thyroid gland and half of his vocal cords.
If you can believe it, things go downhill from there. He realizes he’s trapped in a house where his father is aloof and his mother doesn’t love him. This leads to the usual juvenile delinquency and eventually a host of other revelations. The author’s only escape is to disappear into his art. I won’t mention them here, but all sorts of things begin to snap into place in this twisted, yet timeless, story. It must have been terrible to live through these events, but it certainly makes for riveting readings- I zipped through all 300-odd pages in a single night.
Art matches the story in tone and brevity. Less is more is the mantra of the visual portion of this memoir and it is certainly effective. Black strokes and grey tones belie a lifetime, family generations, of grey existences and mediocre compromises. It is a grimly uplifting tale, not one that offers much in the way of hope, but there is a slight glimmer at the end of the rainbow. Well worth a read.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.