Saturday, December 31, 2011

Swallow Me Whole

by Nate Powell

Swallow Me Whole is a pretty surprising and powerful book, that leaves itself open to interpretation in a number of ways.  The book revolves around Ruth, an adolescent girl who lives with her mother, stepfather, stepbrother Perry, and her infirm grandmother, who everyone calls Memaw.

Mental illness runs rampant in this family.  Memaw is kind of senile, although she hints at having had some of her problems for her whole life.  Perry sees a little wizard, who commands him to draw for hours on end.  And Ruth has a thing about insects.  She's been stealing bugs preserved in jars from her school for ages, and constantly rearranges them on her shelves and in her room.  They speak to her, and she tries to make it through each day without stepping on any living thing.

Since much of this book is seen from Ruth's perspective, it becomes very hard to gauge where imagination is giving over to compulsion or delusion, which seems to be Powell's intent.  The story progresses in fits and starts, jumping over chunks of time, and leaving much for the reader to puzzle out.

Powell's art works well in this book.  He makes good use of negative and empty spaces, letting the art swirl in places like Ruth's thoughts do.  In the end, I'm not sure what this book tells us about obsessive compulsive disorder or schizophrenia, but it does portray these illnesses in a manner much less over-blown than most media.  This is recommended.

1 comment:

Nate Powell said...

Thanks-- glad you enjoyed the book!