by Ted S. McGregor Jr.
Blankets is not a small book. It weighs in at just under 600 pages; and its themes -- Christianity, art, love, parents, sex -- are equally heavy. But Blankets is easily the best book I've read so far this year. It's a book that you'll finish in a single evening, despite its length. You'll probably re-read it, or at least parts of it. And for much of the experience, you'll be lost in the magic of books that you probably felt when you first started reading. It's that good.
Blankets tells the story of the author as a young man; he's raised by devout Christian parents, who practice economy and tough love when raising their two sons. Thompson's early relationship with his brother is mirrored by his developing relationship with Christianity, as he struggles to understand not what his teachers and friends want him to do, but what Christ wants him to do. Later, he falls in love. The rest of the tale, weaving together all the themes that Thompson has set in motion, is intoxicating and painful in the way that it captures first love, first independence and first enlightenment.
One of the reasons that Blankets is so extraordinary is that it's a graphic novel (and a mature one -- the theme and images are for adults or young adults). In one passage, the protagonist describes the intoxicating experience of being in love (long-distance) in high school. We see the object of Thompson's affection, sprawled on her bed at the top of the page, writing a letter. "Most revealing was her handwriting -- including the indentations traced on each page from the page above. (She must have been pressing her pen hard.)" Then, bisecting the page, we see examples. "An alluring line looped her 'l's. Her 'f's were 'l's that instead of linking with the next letter, fell." And then, breathtakingly, Thompson shows us one of her words -- "flirtation." The 'f' does dip down, and turns into the lower torso of Thompson, lying in bed, shirtless and fixated on his absent love.
This is a remarkable reading experience and shouldn't be missed by anyone. Thompson digs deeper than the story, and works wonders with the ways that narratives are told. Books have been giving us images in words for centuries. It has taken artists like Craig Thompson to remind us that they can also give us emotions in pictures.
Publication date: 11/13/03