The fifth and final selection from this month's What Should Kester Read? selections was Blankets by Craig Thompson. If there has been a more widely recommended book among my circle of friends over the past 5 years, I cannot recall it. Cp-workers, church members, college buddies, all shocked that I still hadn't gotten around to reading Blankets, all sure that it would quickly become one of my favorite novels of all time.
So, let's get this out of the way. It didn't. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it. I did. I really did. But the way people talked about it, I was sure it was going to be about far more than it was and that it would touch me far more deeply than it did. That said, I dug it. This book only disappoints due to unreasonably high expectations. If you're expecting it to edge out Infinite Jest or The Brothers K, it didn't come close.
But I really did like it. Here's what I liked. I liked the art. Thompson knows how to make use of his medium better than any of this month's selections (or at least as well as Essex County). Using pictures to tell a story means that the writer can show instead of tell, time passing can be inferred by the reader, if the writer trusts us enough to simply imply it. The transitions between towns or seasons are captured within a few wordless frames. This is why we read graphic novels. Thompson understands that.
He also understands that our ability to fill in the blanks doesn't only apply to pictures, but to words as well. Without specifically spelling out certain events, Thompson hints at them and, by keeping them always slightly hidden, tells us something about fear and anger and secrets. Even the sweetest moments of this story are haunted and without Thompson ever having to tell us that they are.
As far as a story of first love, this is about pitch perfect. This is how it feels to be young and in love, especially when the world doesn't simply go away just because you wish that it would. In some ways, I might have enjoyed this even more if I had gone in expecting it to be a high school first love story. It tells the kind of story it's telling about as well as that story gets told (I honestly can't think of a better perils of growing up/awkwardness of being a teen/loveliness of being in love story than this); I wanted it to be about something more. Still, leaving the reader wanting more means you did something right more than it means you did something wrong. Blankets is a great story, beautifully rendered and brilliantly told.