There’s a fundamental flaw in this society in the sense that people, young boys in general, are heavily discouraged from sharing feelings. Emotions aren’t for sharing. Bottle ’em up. Be tough, be stoic, don’t waver, and don’t care.

But, what if you literally couldn’t unbottle your emotions? What if all of your thoughts and feelings were trapped inside of you, aching for an avenue out, and you couldn’t set them free even if you wanted to?

Enter David Small’s “Stitches.”

David Small Photo Copyright – David Small

Tale of the Tape

David Small’s “Stitches” is a memoir, a story of his childhood and an abusive, repressing family (who have reasons for the things they do, regardless of whether or not they’re “good” reasons). David Small grew up in the Mad Men era of the 1950’s with mom, dad, and a brother. Mom’s language was silent anger: door slamming, quick to physical discipline, and quiet, reserved frustrations. No language. Dad was a radiologist who was relatively scarce when it came to home life, and older brother was an older brother; enjoyed tormenting David, exposing him to crude things in Dad’s medical textbooks, etc.

David’s passion lies in artistry. When he needs to escape, needs to express, he draws. Feelings aren’t allowed in the Small household, so David finds his moments wherever he can: sock-skating through the halls of an empty hospital, getting lost in his imagination, and reading (when his mother isn’t busy burning his books.)

David is a sickly child, prone to respiratory infection and irritation, and it being the grand ol’ 1950’s, Dad sees fit to treat these problems with x-ray radiation. It isn’t surprising when David develops a lump on his neck. What is surprising is how long it goes untreated. When it is finally treated, what is expected to be a routine, one-time surgery turns into a limbo of two surgeries, interspersed with unexplained kindness from his family members. David, needless to say, has cancer. He doesn’t know, however. Not even when he awakes to find a giant suture on his neck, and a missing lymph node / vocal cord. David’s ability to speak has been taken from him in a home that already allows no expression.

As the story progresses, David grows into his own. His repressed feelings and inability to speak lead to a resentment for his abusive family members. Throw in an insane, old-world fire and brimstone grandmother, and a closeted lesbian mother who feels no love for her family, and you’ve got a seriously broken household.

Stitches is about expression, or the lack thereof. David’s mother is silently angry and abusive because she is lashing out at the family / life she didn’t want. David’s father avoids his family like the plague via work or a punching bag in the basement because his perfect nuclear family is the product of a lie. Both boys are reserved and a bit twisted themselves because they are unallowed any forms of self expression. It’s a true-life 1950’s suburban nightmare. As the story rolls, David learns the truth about his family and how they feel about him with the help of a therapist, and decides to run away to pursue his voice, his dreams.

David Small 2 Photo Copyright – by David Small

Sketches

The art style in this book is both parts beautiful and disturbing. There are moments, such as the panel to the right, of great intricacy in detail. Faces are never lacking powerful expression (and if they are, it’s on purpose) The style comes across as a hybrid between sketch art and scribbles. The more horrifying the image, the more disturbing the feeling, the more the art style dives into chaotic scratches. 1950’s suburbia is depicted as drab and hopeless – the entire book is in a grayscale that makes it all seem like a memory at best, bad dream at worst. Small himself wrote and penciled the book, and the pages ooze with resentment toward a family that didn’t care.

The book doesn’t seem like an attempt to reconcile with bad memory. Small’s mother (as well as grandmother), and his older brother are all highly villainous characters, but are not without their motivations. David’s father is drab, practically a shade in the background. Expressionless and unfeeling. Small depicts his therapist as the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, helping him find his way through the maddening rabbit hole that threatens to consume him.

Sketches is not a book for the squeamish or the feint hearted. It’s a powerful, almost unbelievable tale that stands as (whether intentional or not) a cautionary tale against the dangers of bottled emotions and unfulfilled dreams.

Somnia

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