Friday, November 04, 2016

Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart

Rosalie Lightning was a real person: you have to know that first. She was the daughter of cartoonists Leela Corman and Tom Hart. In November 2011, she was just a few days from her second birthday.

And she died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. In her sleep, for no apparent reason.

Any death is sad. The death of a child is devastating. But many deaths can be prepared for -- it might not lessen the inevitable shock, but at least you know it will be coming. Rosalie's death was the worst kind of death: mysterious, random, of a child old enough to be a specific person but still so young as to be mostly potential.

I can barely even imagine the vague outlines of what that could be like. I have two children of my own, though they're much older than that now. (I still worry; you always worry. You worry more every year.)

Tom Hart took that intensely personal, searing story and turned it into art: it's what artists do, to make sense of the senselessness of the world. The book is Rosalie Lightning.

It is a masterpiece of comics, of grief, of witnessing -- the most moving comic about family and loss and the unimaginable since Maus. Hart tells the story in fits and starts, through many chapters, looping back and forth in time around that one horrible moment. His family's life was already hard when it happened -- they had just moved out of New York, driven away by rising rents and the relentless go-go-ism of that city's culture, and were trying to sell their co-op. (And that was going as well as selling any piece of rel estate at a distance ever does -- particularly when it needs to be approved by a board that won't accept the price you can actually get for it.)

Rosalie Lightning
is the story of Rosalie: a way to keep her memory alive, to put down the cute things she said and did, the person she was and was becoming, so she won't be forgotten. And it's even more the story of Tom and Leela, of a couple battered by the worst thing that can happen and who held on through it all. And then it's the story of their friends and connections and family, the people who circled around them in their pain and did what they could to share that pain and lessen it.

Hart tells all of those stories, braided together -- of Rosalie's energy and enthusiasm, of the dark days after she was gone, of the frustrations of selling that co-op, of what it felt like when the ground opened up and swallowed them whole. He tells them brilliantly, in a way purely comics, with art sometimes realistic and sometime scratchy and words flowing across the page in just the right cadence.

Rosalie Lightning is heartbreaking and uplifting, lovely and horrible, a monument both to the depths of grief and the glimmerings of recovery. It is a powerhouse of a book, and one of the strongest, most powerful things I've read in a long time.

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