Sunday, 2 March 2014

Family Reunion

I have just completed Chris Ware's graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000). Winner of the American Book Award and the Guardian First Book Award, this is a visually stunning, beautiful book. The story follows four generations of Corrigan boys coping with dysfunctional or absent fathers.

Jimmy Corrigan is responsible for caring for his single mother, now residing in a nursing home. She is smothering in her attention towards Jimmy and they have a draining dependency on each other. Jimmy has no romantic attachments, a dead-end job, and appears older than his thirty-eight years.

One day Jimmy receives a letter from his father inviting him to fly out to Michigan to visit him for Thanksgiving. When he meets his father he discovers he has an adopted sister and a Grandfather he never knew. During his awkward family reunion we learn much about how the Corrigan men have lived lives of loneliness and repression. Jimmy's active imagination is his escape from unhappiness.

The part I really enjoyed was when we learn of Jimmy's grandfather's childhood set against the backdrop of the Chicago World Columbian Exposition of 1893 and his strained relationship with his father. The artwork in this section is incredibly rich.

Jimmy Corrigan is a bleak tale, involving several parallel storylines.  Ware's simple drawing style is gorgeous to look at and he does so much with so little - conveying emotions and a sense of place. For example, the images of Jimmy trying to record a birdsong.

I first heard about this book on the ABC's Book Club and figured if Marieke Hardy liked it I probably would too.

When I started reading I wasn't sure if I was enjoying it because I had never read a graphic novel before and was a bit confused. I found it hard to get the rhythm of the book as it is very different to reading a novel.  But I am so pleased I read it.

It is a masterpiece and I think it will improve on re-reading.