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 an essay to Glamour Magazine. She responded enthusiastically, genuinely liked my writing and worked to get my essay placed in her magazine.
Unfortunately, because a similar piece 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).
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. And I like supporting author’s work with dollars. So I grabbed it, added it to my large stack of books to purchase but with no real intention to read it, since I’m not really into graphic novels. But, 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.
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 Christianity.
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 daughter 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 precise 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.