Stitches: A Memoir
W.W. Norton & Co.
Release Date: 9/09/2009
Creator: David Small
Format: 344 pgs.; B&W, Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-393-06857-3
ICv2 Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

David Small’s Stitches: A Memoir is a searing memoir of growing up in a troubled family in the 1950s that explodes the Ozzie and Harriet myth of middle class mid-century familial bliss.  Small’s father was a doctor (a radiologist), but his family’s relative affluence couldn’t overcome its deep psychological rifts.  In fact his father’s occupation, combined with that era’s rudimentary knowledge about the cancer-causing side effects of radiation, contributed mightily to his hellish childhood, though his psychological wounds were just as deep as his physical one.  

His taciturn mother not only hid her debilitating medical condition, but also her sexual orientation.  But Small’s cold-as-ice mother is in many ways a more sympathetic character than his bat-poop crazy maternal grandmother. His boyhood trip to Indiana to visit the grandparents is among the most harrowing sections of this northern “gothic” autobiography that is a perfect companion piece in domestic horror to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and could prove to be equally popular with discerning audiences.  

Like Fun Home, Stitches is clearly intended for mature readers with frank, though not prurient, tackling of sexual issues, but Small has adopted a very different style to tell his very different story.  Small’s pen and wash technique is totally his own creation and it is hugely expressive.  He is a master at creating facial expressions with just a few lines and Stitches is often at its most effective in its long wordless passages, such as a 13-page tour-de-force sequence in his father’s hospital in which the young David is frightened by his discovery of a fetus preserved in a jar of formaldehyde.  Breaking a sequence down into so many panels demonstrates a strong cinematic or perhaps manga influence, but Stitches is wholly original work and one of the most intense graphic novels of this or any other year.

- Tom Flinn