• By Kali Benjamin
  • Posted Thursday, March 8, 2018

Books We Like

Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld. In Everything Is Teeth, imagination is paramount. Anglo-Australian author Evie Wyld strays from her traditional fictional narrative with her first graphic memoir, illustrated by Joe Sumner. Her familiarly darkly poetic voice is artfully contained within each scrawled frame, emotionally powerful yet delicate in their very terseness. Wyld’s graphic memoir intricately weaves a vivid sense of childlike wonder through primitive depictions of her as a young girl, juxtaposed with realistic renderings of ferocious sharks floating through the pages, making for an ultimately engrossing narrative.

Wyld’s first person protagonist recounts summers spent in Australia as a child, establishing her memories in a recognizably human way - through smell. She describes her memories as “eucalyptus, watermelons, and filter mud, rich and rude and sickly strong...the smell I associate with the smell of sharks,” which bring the author to the central theme that seems to be looming throughout her graphic memoir. Laced between the fragmented timeline of vignettes from her childhood, the girl’s youthful fascination with sharks gives her memoir an underlying ominous tone, as images of shark fins frequently appear as though swimming throughout the pages of her memoir - beautiful yet threatening. The girl’s relationships with her family are explored simultaneously through her combined fear and fascination of sharks, as she soothes her bullied brother with tales of shark attacks, and accompanies her father as he watches the movie ‘Jaws,’ having (a few too many) glasses of wine. These vicious animals ultimately reveal themselves to be a stand-in, or totem, for the anxieties of reality and innate human fears. Through this imaginative lense of a child we learn how to, and how those around us, cope with what we don’t know and can’t control.

Wyld ultimately delivers a delicate and intimate glimpse into her child self and relationships with her family through Everything Is Teeth. Between Wyld’s poetic prose and Sumner’s gentle illustrations, the anxiety of childhood is palpable. The narrator’s restlessness regarding reality and the universal fears of humanity, and her eventual triumph over them, makes for an engaging graphic memoir along the lines of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Ultimately, Everything Is Teeth will leave something you will carry with you, underlying, like the shark that swims through the pages of this graphic memoir.

Men Without Women After a long wait, beloved writer Haruki Murakami returns to the short story with a collection that boasts an interestingly familiar title - Men Without Women. Using Murakami’s typical sense of wry humor, he introduces seven tales that depict various lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone, without the women they love.

As a long time reader of Murakami, I could not help but view the narratives in this collection as the more grown-up versions of the protagonists in his previous works. The voices I have grown accustomed to in his work seem to fall parallel with the voices depicted within these short stories, yet now more melancholic - desperately holding onto who they once were. In Men Without Women, Murakami delivers a decidedly masculine voice (akin to being an heir of such a title) that explore a dreary Japan full of jazz music, classic cars, women, and booze. Murakami provides a mix of humor and desolation that seem to invoke a thinly veiled meditation on his own lonely life. From an actor who recently lost his wife to cancer, to a man who learns that his childhood sweetheart has committed suicide, these men share the innate human experience of loss. To avoid giving too much away, these seven stories all revolve around this concept of abandonment in some way, not being able to hold onto the woman the protagonist loves.

Through his characters, Murakami explores the existential desperation for belonging, elusive happiness/fulfillment, and as one character desperately asks, “Who in the world am I?” Murakami’s protagonists never stop trying in their quest for a purpose through these tragicomic narratives and sad as his stories are, they are tinged with hope and maintain a certain type of beauty within their sadness.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. American writer Zinzi Clemmons’ debut novel is nothing short of emotionally moving and poignant. Through a series of fragmented vignettes, Clemmons narrates the trajectory of a story, loosely based on the author’s own life, within the constraints of race, class, gender, and growing up in the legacy of Apartheid. The death of the protagonist’s South African mother provides a moving portrait of overwhelming grief for the entire novel - exploring the relationship between mother and daughter, as well as identity, within the context of such a devastating loss.

Told from the perspective of a young, mixed-race woman growing up on the East Coast, Zinzi Clemmons uses a fragmented narrative force to explore her grief. She jumps from vignette to vignette - making leaps between stories of the mother’s struggle with cancer, the protagonist’s analytical graphs of depression, song lyrics, and academic studies of cancer rates based on skin color. The chapters are brief, seemingly sifting through the protagonist’s life in attempt to overcome the struggle for identity within the context of loss.

In What We Lose, Clemmons provides both a sense of genuine sadness as well as an innovative perspective on grief. Rather than adhering to how we “should” grieve, she instead realistically depicts the helplessness we experience when losing those we love, realistically leaving the reader without a solution other than the numbness that yields itself with time. The protagonist is aware that no fantasy awaits her, and that her mother’s death will yield no clear lessons in her exploration of filial grief, making Clemmons’ take on loss refreshing and honest.

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