Gush a lot. That’s what I’m planning on doing when I go to Emerald City Comicon next month. I’m hoping that I get to gush to Lucy Knisley, New York Times best-selling cartoonist about her graphic novels, “An Age of License,” and “Displacement,” put out by Seattle’s own Fantagraphics books. I’m hoping to tell her how grateful I am that she has written a book that so perfectly captures the funny and tragic experience of being a caretaker for your parents or grandparents.
Yes, her other book, “An Age of License” is an awesome book too. The age of license refers to a period in life, in this case her twenties, where you have a license to experiment, to mess up, to explore lots of options. The memoir/travelogue contains all of the conflicts of that age, like who to love and what career to pursue written with the earnestness those topics deserve. The visual treats come in the great pictures of a romantic picnic below the Eiffel Tower at midnight, of the Funicular in Bergen, Norway, of Lucy driving through leafy French vineyards, of the colorful little row houses in Stockholm, Sweden and then back home in New York City. The way she is able to portray the stress and frantic joy of traveling makes me totally identify with her. If you love travelogues to Europe, or are looking for a gift for someone experiencing the age of license, this book is a sweet buy.
Gushing, though, is reserved for “Displacement.” This is a travelogue about the trip Lucy takes with her grandparents on a cruise ship for the elderly in 2012. In her book, Lucy Knisley captures all the love for someone who is almost gone, like her grandmother to senile dementia, or for her grandfather who is doing his best while also starting to lose grasp on some important habits, while truthfully expressing the frustration, the terror, the embarrassment, and the struggle to remain patient, while putting out the effort to repeat things over and over again, to wash her grandpa’s pants when he didn’t end up finding a toilet to pee in, and to wash these pants every night of the cruise, and also to make sure her grandmother has her pills every day, to tie her grandfather’s shoes at the airport, to deal with mean people not willing to wait while her grandparents slowly walked toward the elevator or needed to sit down to rest and someone wouldn’t offer a chair, and to work hard to make them happy in spite of the work involved, and to do this completely by herself–I can’t really express how glad I am to see that she has shown what caregiving for the elderly is truly like. I just have never seen it done before, or maybe I haven’t read enough memoirs, etc, but she nailed this experience completely and honestly.
Interwoven with the cruise story-line, is her grandfather’s own writings, a memoir of sorts of his World War Two experience and his thoughts on war and survival. Watching Lucy read this throughout the trip, shows her respect and love for her grandfather. In the forward, she says of the memoir, “It turned out to be a close companion to me in the loneliness I felt at hiding my own terror and heartbreak at my grandparents’ decline in health.”
The trip isn’t completely without funny and special moments. Lucy’s portrayal of the cruise dinner and comedy shows are smirk-worthy and the peaceful scenes with her grandparents in the pool are the high point of their trip together. Still it is real relief that we feel when she finally gets the “grands” home safely and we see her settle in at her own home with her loving cat in her bed, reading the last pages of her grandfather’s memoir before falling deservedly asleep.
Join me in singing Lucy Knisley’s praises at Comicon in Seattle in March, or at a Comicon near you.