Many memoirs advertise an impossible upgrade from impulsive self-sabotage to equally impulsive self-help, and remain the most accessible literary genre. Graphic memoirs, although they entice readers with a seemingly naïve aesthetic or confessional narrative voice, aren’t the work of amateurs: if anyone can write a memoir, hardly anyone can draw one. A compelling graphic memoir such as Amy Kurzweil’s Flying Couch evokes personal and cultural memory by way of gestures, poses, angles, text written sideways, poetic fragments, and arrow-flung words imitating perception itself. Each pencil mark of Kurzweil’s reminds you that the book is handmade, and is meant to be held, poured over; Kurzweil’s graphic memoir reminds you that all books aspire to be as artful. The obsessively layered density of creative expression page-by-page in Flying Couch attests to the fullness of life scrawled upon the templates of desk surfaces, computer screens, open suitcases, purses, windows, and couches. Words are images and vice versa: photo captions, computer file names, Post-it notes, thought bubbles, nightmares, and book titles on shelves feel imagistic like memory, functioning beyond language: the sharp lineation of birds, roots, branches, couches, and windows are transformed into a way of speaking.
The title of Kurzweil’s debut graphic novel encapsulates the way Jewish womanhood is passed from generation to generation on the sofa in the living room where women hold court, sit with each other, laugh, dream, or wander to other worlds in therapy and in books—except, notably, couches are not heirloom furniture in Kurzweil’s work but like Wordsworth’s “spots in time,” Coleridge’s “winged thought,” or Woolf’s “room of one’s own” are the furniture of self-telling. The book itself, and the author’s role in creating a graphic memoir with three central characters and voices is a response to the distances we sense between the people we love the most. What woman has not thought about a beloved matriarch: “I think about my grandmother all the time…although actually talking to her is a different story”? Kurzweil perfectly handles the tension in female relationships when she reflects upon her arguments with her mother: “I never really know exactly what we’re fighting about, but it usually has something to do with leaving each other.”
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Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 3:53-55