Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Review: Stitches: A Memoir

Stitches: A Memoir
When I was a kid comic books were innocuous fun—Scruffy and Little Lulu and Richie Rich. David Small's Stitches: A Memoir is far from fun, but it is a captivating illustration of Small's childhood in an angry, silent, and non-demonstrative family living in Detroit, Michigan.

When David was 11 the wife of his father's colleague noticed a growth on his neck. Fast forward 3 1/2 years and David's cyst removal operation is scheduled. ("Do you know how much doctors cost!") David wakes up from the surgery only to find out that the cyst is still there but is slated for removal during a second surgery scheduled the following morning. When he wakes up he learns that half of his vocal cords and his thyroid were removed. ("Your vocal cords make the sounds of your voice, your curses, and your prayers. When I woke up from operation #2, I had only one vocal cord, and with only once vocal cord the sound you make is...ACK.")

He is 14 years old, voiceless, with an ugly scar running down his neck. His cancer was not discussed before his operation, nor afterward. ("Dear Mama. David has been home two weeks now. Of course the boy doesn't not know it was cancer.") His mother's concern makes a rare appearance when she buys him Lolita in the hospital gift shop to replace his copy she burned at home; when David doesn't die, she confiscates it once again. Years later his father takes him to dinner and confesses: "In those days we gave any kid born with breathing difficulty x-rays. Two-to-four-hundred rads. I gave you cancer!"

At age 16 David moves out on his own to get away from his increasingly dysfunctional family and to make it as an artist. It isn't until Small's parents send him to a therapist ("It's like throwing money down a hole if you ask me!") that he accepts an obvious truth about his mother and begins to heal. ("But I'm going to tell you the truth. Are you ready? Your mother doesn't love you.")

After reading Small's humorous books for children, the frowns, wrinkles, and snarls on the faces of his family in Stitches are jarring. This is a haunting story about an abused, neglected, and misunderstood little boy who loves to draw and searches his entire life for the secret to becoming like Alice and tumbling down the rabbit hole to freedom.

David Small's Official Website

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