Thursday, February 09, 2017

Something New by Lucy Knisley

At some point, you need to stop talking about how young someone is, and how impressive the work she's done so far. It's a bit patronizing to begin with, of course, but you can only be a wunderkind for so long. Since Lucy Knisley turned thirty during the events she chronicled in Something New, I think it's definitely time to retire the "My God, she's so talented and prolific so young" card.

But it doesn't mean it isn't still true. It just means it's getting rude to focus on that so much.

Something New is Knisley's fifth full-length graphic novel in less than a decade, following the first first-book-ish "spending a month in Paris with my mother" French Milk, the foodie-lover's dream Relish, the enjoying-being-young-and-unencumbered travelogue An Age of License, and the enjoying-being-stuck-with-ninety-something-grandparents travelogue Displacement. It's another memoir -- at some point her life may stop giving her so much rich material, but it hasn't yet -- and, as the title implies, it's about her wedding.

I don't know if Knisley needs a "breakthrough book" -- I haven't had access to Bookscan for a few years now, so I have no idea how she sells. But, if she does, this could easily do it: from the gorgeous cover that reads perfectly from across a room, to her bright and appealing art, to the obviously perennial subject, to her bemused modern (and very personal) take on this perennial ritual, Something New is a deeply appealing book. (Maybe not as much to people with my particular anatomy -- men tend to be somewhat less interested in wedding stories than women, you might have noticed -- but men read fewer books and spend less money to begin with.)

Most of the book is about preparations and the wedding itself, as it should be, but Knisley starts with how she got there -- which is natural, since her readers already know a lot about her life from her previous books. (Though let's never assume we know as much as we think we do: Knisley is clearly smart and thoughtful, and she's forming each of her books. It doesn't mean they're not true, but they're all stories about herself told in the way she wants to tell them.) She's conflicted about weddings, since they've gotten caught up (especially when this story starts, a few years ago) in all of the cultural baggage about "traditional marriage" and the anti-feminist agenda behind that slogan. She's a modern city-dweller who believes in equality; is there a wedding for her?

Well, yes, obviously. And Something New tells the story of how she, and her mother, and her friends/bridesmaids -- and of course her fiance John -- put together the wedding she wanted, celebrating the things she wanted to celebrate. It didn't all work out exactly as she hoped -- what ever does? -- but she tells a lovely, happy story of a young couple bringing their lives together and throwing a big party fort heir friends and family to mark the occasion.

Wedding books are happy books, and usually funny ones: Something New is no exception. As usual, Knisley makes herself the butt of the jokes most of the time -- see her self-image on the cover for one example -- so that her spouse-to-be can be the calm, centered one. (Friendly comedy is "look at what a goof I am," while hostile comedy is "look at those jerks over there.") As I said, I think the audience for this book will be more female than male, but that's no bad thing -- and if it gets some men thinking about weddings (either "I should probably do that someday" or "man, that quirky tradition is super-sexist; how did I not notice that?"), that's also a bonus.

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