When I looked for a cover shot of Rosalie Lightning, I found a lot of entries and so perhaps I'm late to this, but, since I suspect the bulk of my readers are comic strip people rather than graphic novel people, maybe I'm not too far behind the curve.
In any case, I'm writing about it anyway, and I'm going to start right at the beginning, not of his book or of his story but here: A few years after my brother Tony died, my parents told me they had found a group for parents who had lost a child and my (silent) response was, "Oh, swell."
I felt like they'd been through enough already. And now they were going to find a place to relive it all over again.
And that might be your response to hearing about Tom Hart's graphic memoir about his daughter's sudden, unexplainable death three weeks before her second birthday. "Oh, swell."
Well, I was wrong, and, while I can't speak to everyone's needs or tastes, I think you'd be wrong, too.
And, to start with the cover, that anticipated response may be why his publisher, MacMillan, put blurbs on what I would have left plain, earnest blurbs on the front cover, declaring the impact of the book.
Yes, it has impact, but know this: It's not just a punch in the gut and a tear in the eye, nor is it a lecture. Hart is neither looking for your pity nor is he trying to educate you. He's just an artist, doing what he must do.
If you're in the Club, you'll recognize a fellow member, but you'll also see something in this book that you will recognize but that you've never seen depicted.
My brother was 17, I was 20 and I didn't live at home but I had decided to visit.
I was about an hour and a half away when I heard the news of the accident on the radio. (The next of kin had been notified, so there was no reason not to ID the victim on the air.)
I remember coming upon a police officer ticketing someone. I remember pulling up behind him and, when he finished with them and came to see what I wanted, asking him to call my folks and tell them I knew and would be there shortly.
Then it fades out.
Beyond that, it's all bits and snatches. A few moments with friends at the wake. Nothing of the funeral. Sitting on the back porch with his buddies who had been the pall bearers. A moment with my dog. Two weeks of memories that, strung together, might stretch to an hour and a half.
We all talk of it, in the Club. Crazy time. Numb time.
And I'm not really even in the Club; I'm only an associate member, a sibling.
But his whole book is about the difficult parts, and that's what makes it so important: Everyone else waits, and then touches on the difficult parts but focuses on what happened next, after the difficult parts. Nobody just writes about the numb time, the crazy time.
And so now someone has.
As I started the book, I thought, man, you needed to wait. You don't know what it all means yet. It's too soon.
And then I said thank you.
And, besides, nobody ever knows what it all means, if it all means anything at all.
One of the things you learn, as you compare stories and search for meaning, is that everyone's experience is different, and everyone's experience is the same, and for every "At least you ..." there is a counterbalancing, "Yes, but at least you ..."
After you grasp that, you stop trying to be the saddest person in the room, because that's not what it's about, and that's not a competition anyone can win.
Plus, who would want to?
So while some parents can remember high school sports or class plays or vacations together, Rosalie's parents cling to the prattle of a baby just learning to talk, and much of the text is in Rosalie's broken English, because that's what they have.
And everybody has those.
Whatever time you had was not enough. There was no point at which you were going to stop caring, and dreaming, and wondering what would happen next. So two years or 17 years or 40 years are all just details.
The thing is that, although everyone's experience is the same, everyone's experience is different, and the only "rule" is that you must respect that. You can share your experience, but you can't tell people what they ought to be feeling or what they ought to do about it.
What I think I like most about the book is how it skips around from memories to present moment, from grieving for Rosalie to hassling with selling their apartment in New York to trying to find a house in the area they've moved to, to dealing with their grief, to getting a car stuck in the mud. To dealing with their grief. To a snatch of memory. To dealing with their grief. To trying to deal with their grief. While life insists on going on around them.
If you're in the Club or if, like me, you are an associate member of the Club, you'll feel that you've sat down with a fellow member and shared their story.
And, if you have a friend in the Club, Rosalie Lightning will show you what they have not been able to tell you, starting with the fact that the things they need to tell you are things you must hear with your heart and not with your ears.
I'm glad that Tom Hart told only this part of the story. The next part is someone else's book.