Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 20 (2/23) -- Mother, Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier

I had the entirely wrong impression of Hornshemeier's work before reading this book. The first thing I saw of his was the cover of his short-comics collection Let Us Be Perfectly Clear, with its capering ghost-figure and balloony cover font, so I mentally slotted him in with the artsy goofball crowd -- cartoonists like Rick Altergott, Tim Hensley, and Sam Henderson. I enjoy that kind of work occasionally, but only in small doses, and I rarely search it out -- so I filed away Hornshemeier as someone I probably wouldn't like all that much, and ignored him for a while.

However, even a slow learner like me can be convinced, so -- after seeing praise for Hornshemeier's first graphic novel Mother, Come Home many places -- I finally broke down and read the thing. And I have to say that Hornshemeier's work is absolutely nothing like I thought it would be.

Mother, Come Home is the story of a young boy, Thomas Tessier, and his middle-aged philosophy-professor father David, narrated by Thomas. Thomas's mother -- David's wife -- is dead; the reader knows this even as Thomas says that she's "gone." Even through Thomas's eyes, we can see that David is becoming disconnected for his life -- sitting quietly on his bed for hours at a time, forgetting to go to his lectures, letting Thomas take on more and more responsibility to keep the house running. At the same time, Thomas has constructed a mildly fantastic world for himself -- drawn by Hornschemeier in a slightly more childlike, looser style -- in which Thomas maintains his mother's garden and does other rituals to let her come home.

Before long, David is worse -- much worse. Events spiral from there, to a moment I didn't expect but was made inevitable by the preceding story. Eventually, Thomas learns that his mother will never come home. And that neither will his father.

Mother, Come Home is a subtle, dark story about death and madness and fantasy, tied together by symbols and the voice of an older Thomas looking back on his childhood. It's not bleak, though; Thomas survives his traumatic childhood, and perhaps Hornschmeier's lesson is that we all can, if we try -- if we step outside our rituals and fantasies and reach out to each other, we can make it through.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
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Listening to: Neko Case - Prison Girls
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Kerry said...

Thanks for the review - this looks like a neat book. Adding to the ever-growing list...

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