Saturday, September 05, 2009

Stitches by David Small

Stitches by David Small is yet another graphic memoir about a boy who has a surgery that leaves him unable to speak. That Small has told his story visually adds a layer of meaning to his experience that a traditional memoir could not have managed. That he manages to create a literary graphic memoir is remarkable. Visually, the tone of the text is established early, as the surreal angles and images are softened through washes of grey-tones and sharp black and white.

The story Small shares is sad and visually relentless. There are not a lot of words. There do not have to be. In a home where silence simmered beneath the surface, the reader is forced to experience the sadness through the images as deeply as could occur through the speech of the people who move through this boy's life. His mother and father are brutally portrayed, grotesque caricatures of parents, while his brother remains a minor, enigmatic presence.

How Small copes through the silent rage is poignant and his triumph is clear from the beginning; he finds a remarkable voice in his art which conveys the conflict of his feelings in the face of confessions—both intentional and coincidental. In so many ways, the individual players in this family drama are doomed, another facet of the story that is told most clearly through Small’s drawing style. What I loved most about this graphic memoir is the sheer poetry of the visuals. So many of the pages are overflowing with drawings that evoke the type of emotions poets try to define through a line. This book is a poem, a memoir, a visual nightmare. It is stunning, in the purest meaning of that word as I was left silenced, sighing in perfect contentment.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff is a wonderfully written exploration of Sheff’s own struggles with his son’s addiction to crystal methamphetamine, a heinous drug that has an inevitability when it comes to addiction. Naturally, Sheff explores the science behind the drug—its history and design, the effects it has upon the user and addict. These details are alarming and the reader gleans an awareness about how the drug can be so destructive to both the individual and the community. Where this book needed to most succeed is within Sheff’s own ability to be candid about his experience, sharing the vulnerability of parenthood. From the very beginning, when Sheff describes his own hopes for his son in the face of his son’s already addicted anger, the reader is drawn through sympathetically aware of how the story is going to unravel and compelled to travel along, never judging Sheff even when he is his most flawed. Superlatives come to mind. Harrowing. Heartbreaking. Honest. I don’t know how any parent survives these things and I have to praise Sheff for how well he manages to communicate his own questioning in the face of the fallout. Naturally he would begin to question what, if anything, he might have done differently as a father, how he might have made choices that influenced his son, where he could have mis-stepped or simply walked another way. Sheff above all else offers no easy answers for himself or his reader, which is how it should be. Addiction isn’t easily answered, whether it happens to a stranger or a loved one. If the answers were easy, we wouldn’t have addicts; we all would know what to do, what to avoid, and what to allow. Instead, we are all left, through Sheff’s transparency, forced to look in a mirror at our own reflection and wonder what we might have done differently all the while knowing it might have made no difference whatsoever.
When I transformed my random and raw words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into chapters, a semblance of order and sanity appeared where there had been only chaos and insanity (13). Writing is enormously painful, and writing this story is sometimes excruciating. Writing every day, I go through the emotions I felt at the time of the story I’m remembering. I relive the hell. But I also relive the moments of hope and miracle and love. (237) It helps to read others’ stories. And it helps to write, at least it did for me. As I said, I wrote frantically. I wrote in the middle of the night and made it to morning. If I were a painter like Karen, I would have painted what I was going through. She often did. I wrote. (315)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Redwall by Brian Jacques

Redwall by Brian Jacques has been out for a while and there are many sequels. This fantasy novel is filled with anthropomorphic animals and the usual quest and hero themes one would expect. By the end of part one I thought to myself that I wasn’t exactly thrilled with what I was reading and probably should stop but for some reason I didn’t. Instead, I struggled through to the end, probably hoping it would get better. And the thing is, it didn’t get better but really it isn’t that bad. It’s just cute. Cute and not very clever. Too often the characters happen upon the answer because they lean on a wall or move a piece of furniture or just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Jacques also has an annoying habit of off-setting a single sentence and then ending it with an exclamation mark as if having a single sentence paragraph were not emphasis enough! This affectation is not effective and I hope that he dropped it in the sequels and prequel(s?) that have since been published. I will give credit to Jacques for creating a lovely little world full of mice and bunnies and squirrels and sparrows. It reminded me a bit of the dollhouses they used to sell at FAO Schwartz that had little mice, dressed in human clothing, in place of the typical human dolls that would live in a dollhouse. I always found the dollhouses enchanting and I think I hoped to regain that sense of child-like wonder while reading these books. I didn’t. Instead, I was pretty bored throughout. Most confusing to me is that I’ve heard this book compared favorably with Watership Down and, frankly, Jacques’ novel doesn’t even come close to Adams’ brilliance. Cute book but ultimately a let down. I won’t read any of the other books in the series. After all, I still have to work my way through the Wheel of Time books and the Earthsea trilogy and the Sword of Truth series and . . . well, you get the point.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Diabetic Friendly Recipe: Entree

Pepper Steak Quesadillas Servings 4 Carb per serving 20g 8 ozs beef sirloin steak of boneless beef top round steak 1 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel 2 cloves garlic, minced ¼ teaspoon ground cumin 4 7-to-8-inch whole wheat tortillas nonstick cooking spray 1 medium red sweet pepper, cut into thin bite-size strips ¼ cup thinly sliced green onions ½ cup chopped peeled jicama ½ cup reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 ozs 1. Trim fat from beef. Thinly slice beef across the grain into bite-size strips. In a medium bowl, combine steak strips, lime peel, garlic, and cumin. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator 30 mins to 4 hours. 2. Preheat over to 300ºF. Lightly coat one side of each tortilla with nonstick cooking spray. Place tortillas, coated sides down, on a tray or clean work surface. Set aside. Coat an unheated extra-large nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat skillet over medium heat. Add steak strips, sweet pepper, and green onions to hot skillet. Cook 3 to 5 minutes or until steak is browned and pepper is crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in jicama. 3. Divide steak and pepper mixture among tortillas, placing the mixture on one half of each tortilla. Sprinkle beef mixture with cheese. Fold tortillas over filling; press lightly. 4. Coat a clean, unheated extra large nonstick skillet or griddle with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat skillet or griddle over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium. Cook quesadillas, half at a time, in hot skillet or griddle for 3 minutes or until tortillas are browned, turning once halfway through cooking. Place quesadillas on a baking sheet; keep warm in the oven while cooking the remaining quesadillas. 5. Cut each quesadilla into three wedges. If desired, serve with salsa and/or lime wedges. Test Kitchen Tip: For easier slicing, wrap and freeze steak 30 to 45 minutes before cutting it. Per Serving: 267 cal, 9 g total fat (4 g sat fat), 34 mg chol, 475 mg sodium, 20 g carb, 11 g fiber, 25 g pro, Exchanges: .5 vegetable, 1 starch, 3 lean meat, 1 fat. Carb choices: 1

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

August in Summary

August in Summary There were two more deaths, one a suicide. Another trip to the emergency room for Rob, this time with urine in his blood. Then another because his glucose shot up after his medications were changed. Life truly is miserable when you find yourself writing: I hope September is better--only one death and one trip to the hospital would be a good start. *sigh*

But most importantly, August is the month of my darling daughter’s birthday. She turned 27 and, in spite of the drama surrounding our lives, we all managed to pull it together, to spend time in celebration over cake and pizza. (We also learned that the Sweet n Low cake and frosting mixes were blech but that the Publix sugar free cake is delicious!)

Things are never too bad when you can share a celebration with others. (We were in the hospital on her actual birthday but had already planned to celebrate it on the weekend when she didn't have to work. Still, Rob and I were going to surprise her by showing up at her job with some cake and maybe a balloon or something equally embarrassing. The best laid plans . . . ) August has been an exhausting month. I can’t say that I am terribly surprised. The way things have been going, I’d have been surprised if it had been anything but what it was. And let's just assume September is going to be more of the same. Books Read The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance by Audre Lorde Erasure by Percival Everett There, Their, They’re by Annette Lyon An Hour to Live, An Hour to Love by Richard Carlson and Kristine Carlson

I actually read more books last month but the chaos of the month made it hard for me to put my thoughts about what I read into words. Anyway, there are more reviews coming. Soon. I promise. In spite of this, it is truly a tough call but I have to say that I loved Erasure and I believe that will have to be the official "favorite" for the month. Movies Watched The Fantastic Four—Was this one of those mindless summer blockbuster wannabes? It was cute but not much more. Not a blockbuster in my mind. Stardust—Speaking of cute, and slightly quirky, this one wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I didn’t read the book first. That probably helped. A lot. Strike Up the Band—A Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney vehicle that was frankly dreadful except for one song. Grudge 2—I thought the first movie was at least interesting but this didn’t have the same intensity. Godfather—I’ve avoided this movie for decades for personal reasons that kept me from wanting to see any of the movies. I enjoyed it, in spite of myself. Godfather 2—This one stirred up some scary things for me. Still, I can appreciate why this movie is considered the best of the trilogy. Superbad—Cute goofy movie. Along the whole Animal House oeuvre. Masculine hormones + frat boy stupidity = nonsense. I laughed. 'Nuff said. The Devil Wears Prada—Better than I had thought it would be. It helps that I love Meryl Streep and like Anne Hathaway. Movies I Started to Watch but Stopped Kingdom of Heaven because it was dull. Rambo because it was too graphically violent. Just Friends although I like Ryan Reynolds I found this movie vapid.