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David Small

Home After Dark

Home After Dark by David Small is an evocative coming of age graphic novel about the dark side of the American Dream in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, which juxtaposes this supposed golden era with the realities that many faced.

Covering two years, the book starts in Ohio as thirteen year old Russell’s mother runs away with another man,  leaving him and his father alone. His morose hard-drinking father packs the two of them up and heads to California for a new start. However, the state of golden opportunities does not shine for them, and they settle in a non-descript inland town where his father gets a job working at the San Quentin jail. The two briefly rent rooms from a Chinese couple, the Mah’s, before moving into a small tract home the father buys using money from the GI Bill, as he is a Korean War veteran. Russell befriends Willie and Kurt in his neighborhood, who offer him a toxic view of masculinity, and ruins any chance he has to develop a friendship with school mate Warren, who is struggling with his identity also. During their second summer in California, his father abandons him, leaving him essentially an orphan. While the Mah’s take him in, Russell betrays them in addition to Warren, to Russell’s great regret. While you have great sympathy towards Russell, he is far from a likable character, and this haunting tale will make you look at the nostalgia of yesteryear with a different lens.

Small’s artwork is done in black and white with a grey overwash. His often wordless panels flow well throughout the chapters. Closeups of faces convey emotions effectively, as do the shadowy dream sequences. Despite the excellent art found in the book, I believe the cover picture does the novel a disservice. A distorted picture of Russell does not convey what the book is about, and might actually turn people off. I bought it for my library’s graphic novel collection because I thought so highly of Small’s earlier memoir Stiches, and although I have it displayed outward for our patrons to pick up, it has not circulated at all. I’ve seen another cover available, and I wish I had that one at my library, but this was the only cover I saw at the time I ordered it.

This disquieting book was a melancholy read and doesn’t wrap up things neatly. While you have a clue of the choice Russell will make, you know he has a tough road ahead of him no matter what.

-Nancy

Small, David. Home After Dark. 2018.

Stitches

I loved this graphic novel memoir! Some books really call to you because of past life experiences and I could relate to the experiences in the story because I was raised by an extremely angry father myself, so while our bios were completely different, I could connect at some level.

Author David Small was raised in Detroit with a taunting older brother, a father who was a radiologist plus an angry and repressed mother. Growing up in the image conscious 1950’s, David was a sickly child who tried to make the best of his dysfunctional upbringing by escaping into his art. At age eleven a growth began to grow on his neck, but his parents didn’t get him surgery for three more years, until it had metastasized into cancer. They kept the fact that it was cancer from him, and after he discovered the truth he was left with additional emotional scars in addition to the physical stitches and loss of half of his vocal cords.

The mother in this book was so very unlikable, and while Small didn’t portray his father in the same way, the fact that his father allowed the family to exist like that made him equally culpable. Such horrible undercurrents were running through that family over the years, and the choice for the parents not to tell their son he had cancer was inexcusable. Later he discovered that his mother was a lesbian and had significant health issues herself. Pair that with a toxic marriage, it’s no surprise that David and his brother were doomed to an unhappy childhood. However, the ending showed that with proper help from a therapist and finding supportive friends, an unhappy childhood does not prevent you from a successful and happy future.

His illustrations were so well done, with the reader easily seeing the family resemblances through the generations, and his eyes/face moving between child and teen. The drawings were all in black and white, which I thought focused you more on the narrative than on potentially distracting colors.  I enjoyed the Alice in Wonderland theme throughout, from him playing Alice as a child, to the very obvious White Rabbit therapist analogy. Of course, I enjoyed him finding peace and a passion/vocation that would move him away from his dysfunctional family. Page 302 made me tear up, seeing him as a young adult finally receiving the affirmation he deserved.

-Nancy

Small, David. Stitches. 2009.

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