13 September 2009

Book Reports are different at Art School

Lauren Rae Holtermann / Illustrated Story II / Joel Priddy / 09.13.09

Blankets is an illustrated novel written & illustrated by Craig Thompson which chronicles the writer’s two first real connections—his close friendship with his younger brother (and what he considers his failures within it) and his first love as a teenager. Though these are the primary focus of Thompson’s story, it is more a tale of a boy coming to terms with his own perceptions of identity, religion, relationships, family, love, life calling, and the subsequent contradictions that present themselves between them.

In the book, Thompson is portrayed at different ages and stages in his life: as a young boy around 8 or 10, a teenager around 17 or 18, and an adult in his twenties. However, it is not written chronologically, but rather, in more in a series of flashbacks when appropriate. For instance, when Craig goes to visit his first love, Raina, a girl he met at church camp, for two weeks at her home in Michigan, he is torn between an overwhelming physical attraction to her, and the ideals of lust, temptation, and sin instilled in him through his highly religious parents. The writer then takes us back to a time when young Craig’s busdriver finds a drawing he had done of a naked woman, and returns it to his parents. They tell him that he has a gift not to be used to do the devil’s work. In the creative mind of a child, he imagines the portrait of Jesus in his parents’ room turning away from him in shame and disappointment. This non-linear method of storytelling, I feel, is particularly effective because rather than presenting a perfect recount of his life, childhood to adulthood, we are only exposed to the parts of his childhood which he later finds important or relevant to his subsequent maturation.

The portrait of Jesus is also a significant storytelling device. In his teenage years , in Michigan, he finds the same portrait in Raina’s room, but feels Jesus is proud and approving of his half-naked, hormonal encounter with his girlfriend. The exact same portrait existing in his parents’ bedroom and Raina’s alike may be an embellishment by the author rather than a factual aspect of the story, however, that’s really irrelevant. Its storytelling purpose is clear. The portrait is a representation of Craig’s perceived adherence to Christianity, and Jesus’s image acts as a literal scale between utter blasphemy and complete faith. The fact that it is the same image suggests that Craig’s perception of religion is continuous, not dependent on his surroundings or company. However, I believe that the scene in which he and Raina are twisted around in the throngs of passion, when he sees Jesus smile upon what would be considered in Christianity to be a lustful, sinful act, is the point in which Craig’s faith is first tested and begins to morph. Having been a part of the Christian faith, questioned it, reinterpreted it, and eventually denounced it myself, I can relate to this stage in Thompson’s life. The faith is easy to follow before being exposed to the rest of the world outside of family, home life, and the church. When you have the opportunity to either resist or give in to temptation, it takes a big life-changing decision moment, because the choice to take your shirt off with your seventeen year old girlfriend or stop and sneak back into the guest room of her parents’ house isn’t simply that; it becomes a matter of fully embracing your faith or embracing the rest of what you are as a human. It’s confusing, but in Craig’s experience, he had at that moment personalized his faith. Although the sequence is without dialogue, the descriptions provided makes me think Craig has rationalized his actions… How can something that feels so right be morally wrong?

When Thompson takes us back into his adolescence and teenage years, there is a big gap between age 10 and age 17. Raina brings up this discrepancy, to which Craig explains that the relationship with his younger brother had disintegrated around the time that they got their own beds. This also brings up the title of the book: Blankets. The title is obviously a metaphor. Blankets as a symbol, are an easy interpretation: a symbol of comfort and familiarity, but not necessarily of consistent happiness. In Thompson’s autobiographical tale, he jumps between different phases in his life, but each seems to be defined by blankets, or moreso, by the people he shares a blanket with. This recurring symbol changes meaning, corresponding to Craig’s age, maturity, and priorities. As a young child, blankets are sails on the ship of his bed of which he and his younger brother Phil are captains. Blankets are also the joined warmth of brotherhood in the cold winter months when his poor family cannot afford the comfort of heating in their drafty shared bedroom. However, when he gets older, blankets are the binding connection between he and his first love, Raina. And through their relationship, the blanket symbolizes their love, personified in the handmade quilt that Raina meticulously cuts and sews for Craig. In his twenties, the blanket is a representation of memories destroyed. The room that was once a roraring ocean, navigated by Craig and Phil as small boys has been stripped of blankets, and Raina’s quilt, a symbol of innocent love has been stuffed into a garbage bag, hidden away in a closet to be forgotten. When Raina and her blanket are retired, Craig fills the void with a reinvigorated relationship with Phil, although blankets are not now the center of their connection. Blankets, in their absence, seems to serve as a symbol of his maturation. In his twenties, when Craig is lastly portrayed, the comfort of faith and shared beds are not evident. He has grown out of their need, finding solace as we all do post-romantic fancy and childhood magic… in the small moments of life, in the “holidays as a ritual with meaning, and the seasons as an increment of measurement.”

1 comment:

Gavin said...

God, this was a damn good book.