by Carol Tyler
It says something that three of my favorite books this year are comics or, as they’re known among the intelligentsia, graphic novels. Actually, these are all more-or-less-memoirs: Emmanuel Guibert et al’s The Photographer, David Small’s Stitches, and now Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know (Fantagraphics, 2009). I’m not quite sure what exactly it does say, and feel quite unable to think through the whole thing right now, but surely it has to do with the quality of comics and my general disenchantment with much fiction these days. (Arrghh. That’s more thinking about the why of it than I wanted to do.)
You’ll Never Know is the story of the author/illustrator’s relationship with her father, his relationship to his wife, and his refusal — for most of Carol’s life — to talk about, or even acknowledge, his experiences overseas in World War II. I loved the way she makes her parents seem as real to us as they are to her, and how adroitly she weaves their stories with her own. While you’re reading this book, you have both a visceral sense of time passing inexorably (and you can see it in the drawings of her parents), how our experiences shape us (whether we acknowledge them, or even remember them, or not), and how the past — both recent and distant — influences the present. Because the text and pictures are so engrossing, I was able to overlook the (admittedly small number of) typos — “insures” for “ensures” and “it’s” for “its,” for example. Typos like that normally drive me crazy and frequently make me give up on a book I’m reading; but Tyler’s book was so captivating that when I encountered them, they gave me a momentary twinge of regret (“Why couldn’t an editor have caught that?”) and then I went on because I didn’t want to stop. This is the first book of a proposed trilogy. I am very much looking forward to books two and three.