As we left the Paria Canyon and started our journey back towards the overbearing, and frankly depressing, lights of Las Vegas I wound up going at what I anticipated to be a short a light read. For the first time in my life I actually read a graphic novel. It was Blankets, by Craig Thompson. It had already been read by two of my fellow trail mates on the trip and they both reccomended it. The book itself is nearly 600 pages. Really. Yet, it can be read in one 2-3 hour sitting. I know this because I did it. In the inside flap one of the overly wordy reviews of it mentioned it read like a Francois Truffaut movie would. If you know me, you know that more than served to peak my interest.
So what is it about? Goodness. It's as expansive and tackles as many or even more themes than many great books I have read. At the center of story is Craig. The book traces his experiences with his family, his childhood adventures with his brother, his love for drawing, his first love, and first exposure and acceptance of religion (Christianity). Of course a good story more often than not needs a conflict and in Blankets seemingly everything good that I have mentioned so far falls apart and Craig is left to pick up the pieces and reevaluate it all.
Perhaps it was mostly filtered through my own lens, but the main stories throughout the book to me seemed to be young Craig's wresling with his belief in his God and his wrestling with a belief in his first love. And wouldn't you know it, sometimes in adolescence if one falls apart so does the other. And come to think of it, that sort of thought process, or deconstruction of belief isn't just restricted to adolescence, is it? And perhaps it struck a pang with me because in the past I had struggled in much the same way.
Very few amongst us wish for something different than the romatic life. To love and be loved. The few times that the stars aligned for me the love I felt was love that was reciprocated, well of course those go down as the happiest moments of your life. And to me in my Christian walk, I saw it as a blessing. And it's probably true that I streched it to the point that I believed it was confirmation that my walk with God was headed in a correct direction. But then, when you have made that connection in your head and heart, what happens when it all goes pear shaped? Not only the questioning of yourself, but the questioning of your faith as well. It's gotta be recognized that whereas romance is truly a gift, goodness can it be a dangerous idol.
Reading through the book, it's hard not to believe that Thompson has painted at least a semi-autobiographical sketch. Craig wants to draw. He is pushed towards ministry by his Pastor (who is drawn as a spitten image of Jerry Falwell, which I find hilarious). What if his art can be used to glorify God? His trips to youth group snow camps in high school hit the mark completely. If you have ever been to one, you can't help but snicker at how much Thompson's snow camp looks like the ones in your memory. A chapter is based on the Cure's wonderful tune Just Like Heaven. At different points in Craig's growing up peers are seen wearing B.U.M. shirts. Craig is wearing a cardigan. PJ Harvey, Jane's Addiction, Radiohead - Pablo Honey, and Galaxie 500 (Galaxie 500!!!!) posters adorn the wall in different rooms. Extreme care has obvioulsy been given to these smaller details for sake of authenticity.
There is much more I'd care to say about the plot that I choose to hold off on. I really think this book can just about appeal to anyone. I have hit on some of the faith aspects covered in the book here, and there are more, and I believe they are centrally important to the book. But, it can also be read as a simple but extremely well told love story.
The ending of the book. At once I wanted to scream. Or throw the book. Or just lay back and smile. I chose the lay back and smile route. It sticks with you. I am smiling again now thinking about it. Like any good story it's weight stays with you far afterwards. Even if it is a comic book. I mean graphic novel. Whatever. At the end of the day, it's an incredibly affecting story no matter what the medium is.