Category Archives: Death

Book Review: THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK

Jonathan Santlofer is a successful artist and novelist. I had the privilege of hearing him read recently as he shared the stage with two other distinguished writers, Neal Thompson and Wendy C. Ortiz, at a panel on memoir writing at Hugo House in Seattle. Later, in person, I asked Mr. Santlofer if he ever considered doing a graphic novel, given his facility with words and images, and he said he’d love to do it! He’s on my radar right now. His book, The Widower’s Notebook, is quite a page-turner. I went to the Tin Table for a late dinner and couldn’t put it down. The waitress even said I could stay as long as I wanted. After making some time for the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, I kept reading the next day and finished in another sitting. What I got from this book is a riveting narrative covering a heart-wrenching time in the author’s life.

Mr. Santlofer has an uncanny observational style: you believe you’re with him. His writing is vivid and carries you along even when he’s writing about not feeling up to doing anything at all. It’s the mark of not only a good writer but an excellent writer to allow you into a life without you being aware of any of the effort involved. This is a story of a most significant loss, the death of one’s life partner. Santlofer achieves a level of the sublime by simply being in the moment. He does with his writing what he does with his drawings: evoke a sense of the hyperreal. You are really there with the author as he finds his wife, Joy, dying before his eyes, the subsequent rush to the hospital, and the frenetic tripping through memories.

We follow along as Santlofer reflects upon a grand life beginning with a young bohemian couple, just married, in Brooklyn, circa 1967. We progress in a stream of consciousness fashion from the birth of Dorie, his beloved daughter, to the recent death of Joy to the building up of a new life. The act of drawing helps with the act of mourning–drawings work when words seem to fail or seem to be not enough. There’s a touch of magic to art-making and it seems most explicit when examining an intimate and intricately crafted drawing. The excerpt below speaks to this process:

“I am able to draw my wife because drawing is abstract, because you can’t really draw something until you stop identifying it. You can’t think: this is an eye, or a nose, or lips, or you will not be able to draw them; an eye, a nose, lips are all the same, simply marks on a page.

Drawing has made it possible for me to stay close to Joy when she in no longer here. It is a way to create a picture of her without feeling weird or maudlin. I am not sitting in a dark room crying over a photo of my dead wife; I am at my drawing table, working.

Grief is chaotic; art is order. Ironic, as most people think art is all about feeling and emotion, when in fact the artist needs to be ordered and conscious to create art that will, in turn, stir feelings and emotion in others.”

A drawing is a complicated thing.

Santlofer’s book is about dying and about living. It is as much about mourning as it is about relationships, family, and the creative process. Indeed, art can save your life and Santlofer’s book eloquently and passionately speaks to perseverance and purpose.

The Widower’s Notebook is a 272-page paperback with illustrations, published by Penguin Random House.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Death, Death and Dying, Hugo House, Jonathan Santlofer, Memoir, New York City, Penguin Random House, Seattle, writers, writing

Interview: David Ury and ‘Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book For Grown-Ups’

David Ury and "Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book For Grown-Ups"

David Ury and “Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book For Grown-Ups”

Daivd Ury is really onto something. Who is David Ury? you may ask. Most likely, you’ve seen him around, getting throttled, axed, murdered, or most notably, having an ATM fall on him in AMC’s critically-acclaimed “Breaking Bad.” Yes, he’s one of those character actors that you like but might not know unless you’re looking in the right places. Ury has definitely been working hard. You can catch his hilarious collaboration with his alter-ego, Kevin Tanaka, right here:

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Filed under Books, Children's Books, Comic-Con, Comic-Con 2014, Death, Illustration, Interviews

Review: ‘When David Lost His Voice’ by Judith Vanistendael

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Currently on the shelves is a book with a bright orange cover and a powerful story about coping and understanding death and loss. Our lives can become so routine: work, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Ironically, the closer we come to death, the more we appreciate life. Just like they say, our lives flash before our eyes at a time of crisis. It can unnerve us. Americans, for example, have been thought to not deal too well with death. However, given the popularity of zombies, that overall outlook seems to be improving. And there are some cultures who appear to be more in touch with death. “When David Lost His Voice,” the new graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael, published by SelfMadeHero, gives us a story that shows how life and death can come to terms. It’s a story not without a healthy dose of good cheer.

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I recently viewed Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in New York,” a comedy about what happens when relatives from France descend upon a couple’s New York apartment for the weekend. In the movie, you see just how crude, or earthy, depending on your taste, these French folks can be. The humor itself felt French too, embracing the absurdity in life more than your typical American comedy. It seems to be a matter of dropping any inhibitions and yet done with a certain style. In that regard, I find a similar sensibility running throughout this graphic novel. It is the story of David, who discovers he has developed a cancer in his throat. He is an older gent who has a full-grown daughter, Miriam, as well as a 9-year-old daughter, Tamar, from a recent marriage to Paula. And Miriam has recently given birth herself to Louise. It is quite a premise: all these women are a vital part of David’s life and the prospects for his future don’t look so good.

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David is a special man who is well loved. He’s a man of few words. He prefers to let his actions speak for him. He owns a bookshop so he deals in words every day but, for seeking deeper meaning, he can make good use of silence. It is these qualities that are on display as he does his part to console Tamar, about the possibility he may not be around for much longer. He’s there for her. He’s attentive to her child’s viewpoint.

David and his wife, Paula, tirelessly work together to keep their daughter calm, even if it requires adhering to an elaborate scheme to make it look like it’s possible to send mail back and forth attached to balloons. It’s almost easier for David to attend to little Tamar’s needs than it is to attend to the needs of anyone else. Miriam keeps seeing him as a ghost. Paula, an artist, reconstructs him from x-rays.

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Interestingly enough, it’s Paula who becomes very vocal and loses control a bit over all the quiet surrounding David. It’s bad enough that David won’t talk about it. But no one else is capable of articulating what’s happening either. Or does it just seem that way? Balance is gained when a child’s perspective, that sense of lightness, can be brought into play. Maybe mermaids, magic, and notes sent on balloons can help make things better.

As long as everyone believes in hope and compassion, then the end need not be harsh and bitter. In a story that floats with such delicate ease, Judith Vanistendael does a beautiful job of evoking what is involved when all parties manage to transcend a crisis and create something new.

“When David Lost His Voice” is a remarkable graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael. She is a Belgian author of graphic novels and an illustrator. She is known for “Dance by the Light of the Moon,” two volume work also published by SelfMadeHero. You can find out more about purchasing your own copy of this book here.

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Filed under Comics, Death, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Judith Vanistendael, SelfMadeHero