Two nights ago, I purchased a graphic novel-as-memoir entitled The Imposter’s Daughter. I initially bought this novel because I am acquainted with the author, Laurie Sandell. I met her via email several years ago when I submitted a personal essay about domestic violence on college campuses to Glamour Magazine. She responded enthusiastically, genuinely liked my writing and worked to get my essay placed in her magazine.
Unfortunately, because a similar story was already in development at the magazine, the powers that be passed on my article. I recently touched based with Laurie and discovered that she had written a memoir published in 2009 (paperback came out in July 2010). I told her I would definitely purchase a copy and promptly forgot about her book amongst the chaos of relocating to a new area and raising two boys.
So this week, I found myself, latte in hand wandering around Barnes and Noble looking for the new novel about Emily Dickinson by Lyndall Gordon, Lives Like Loaded Guns. I saw Laurie’s book prominently displayed on a table in the front of the store featuring new releases. I snatched it up, adding it to my previous selection and found a private corner in which to read.
I knew that I was going to purchase Laurie’s book, (good or bad) just because I said that I would. Besides, I wanted to support the one published author that I sort of knew. (God knows that when I publish my first novel, I certainly want any and everyone I know to purchase a copy!) So, I set it aside and eagerly flipped to the beginning of the Dickinson expose. I was revved up to read this book ever since I read this review.
I grew up completely enamored with Emily Dickinson. It had been quite awhile since I thought about one of America’s greatest poets but I vaguely recalled her as being a prim, unadorned tortured soul writing feverishly in a locked attic somewhere.
Hope Is The Thing With Feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all, And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.To my teen angst-filled mind she seemed terribly romantic; unaccountably passionate written words from someone so apparently pinched and pained, staring solemnly out of black and white photographs. I could not help but think that she and I were twin souls, she in nineteenth century Amherst and me growing up in a contemporary southern-fried suburbia. It is because of her that I began scribbling in journals and creating poems to express myself when my bitterly shy, awkward teenaged self could not do so verbally.So, it was with great eagerness that I delved into this book daring to expose Miss Dickinson for the passionate creature I always hoped she would be. Well, apparently I just wasn’t in the mood for an in-depth, wordy tome that began with minutiae. Three pages into the first chapter, I glanced at the brightly colored cover of The Imposter’s Daughter and put the first book down. (My inability to read Lives Like A Loaded Gun should in no way be construed as derogatory–all reviews have been positive. Like the jerk boyfriend we’ve all had who rationalized ending The Greatest Romance Ever with “It’s not you, it’s me.” Well…it wasn’t the book, it was me… I still plan on reading it.) Any hu…I opened up The Imposter’s Daughter expecting a well-written memoir (but secretly wondering how memorable can any young woman’s life be to merit a memoir). The author is after all an accomplished writer, most notably known for her celebrity profiles. (Celebs like Ashley Judd and Penelope Cruz, among others make interesting cameos in the book.) Two seconds into reading, I found that I was smiling, amused, happy…laughing. This was a laugh out loud book. The drawings were great–funny and I’m not the type of reader who gravitates towards graphic novels (that would be my oldest son who developed a taste for anime while in Japan). I immediately sent out a tweet: “#what i’m reading “The Imposter’s Daughter” by Laurie Sandell. So far, ridiculously funny.”
I thought, okay, I get it. This is going to be a very funny story about an intelligent, scarily articulate and Dawson Creek-observant kid who has the most impressive dad in the world. He was a Green Beret, had multiple degrees from the best schools, spoke several languages and was probably a CIA operative. Okay. That is not what this story is about and it is not all laugh out loud funny. Sure, there is always a hint of amusement hovering above the pages, but it is more humor borne of desperation (like I better laugh or I’ll cry) than anything else.
This memoir delves into some gritty territory–all told with humor, and excellent drawings which add a layer of depth to the story. There is prescription drug abuse, stripping in Japan (read the book), an exploratory lesbian fling, lots of familial dysfunction and even a funny take on redemption through Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (no really, it’s funny. I’m visualizing the cartoon right now and I’m smiling.)
After completing the book, I marveled at how effective a graphic novel was to express this story, and I also wondered who Ben (her hot and cold boyfriend) was – is he, or isn’t he a famous film director we all know (and maybe love?).
The father, really the main character of the story is over-the-top. His drawings and characterization practically beg to come to life on the big screen. I see this movie with the same tone as Little Miss Sunshine or Juno, a kooky bittersweet tale of family dysfunction and the importance of remaining true to one’s self. Because really, by the end of this book, the story is less about the daughter-father relationship and more about the main character defining herself in and out of context with her family.
I have tried to reconcile the character in the book with the Laurie Sandell I have briefly interacted with and I would describe her as generous, friendly and completely down to earth. I would imagine she had an ideal childhood with a wholesome family and had lived a life with precision focus on achieving her goals. I would not, for a minute imagine that her personality was crafted from heart wrenching drama and eventually polished by a stint in rehab and discovering a new-found faith. But that is her story and by writing The Imposter’s Daughter, she is certainly sticking to it.