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Booklog: Blankets

June 18, 2007

Blankets
Craig Thompson
Read: 6.8.07
Rating: Very Good

It’s a rare thing, reading a book that aligns so closely with one’s own experience. It’s also deeply unsettling. As I turned the pages of Craig Thompson’s admirable Blankets, I couldn’t help but marvel at its resonance with my own teenage years. If I aligned the text with my own life, the point for point matches wouldn’t be all that many, but a heavy handful of the scenes and episodes depicted so perfectly in Blankets were eerie in their similarity; I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reliving key events that are now distant memories.

Craig Thompson’s 582-page “illustrated novel” works back in forth in time between the childhood of the narrator (also named Craig Thompson, so this clearly borders on memoir) and his senior year of high-school, when he meets and falls in love with a girl named Raina. Thompson has said that his novel is primarily about the experience of sleeping with someone for the first time, and it is a love story first and foremost, but the teenage Craig’s emergence from a childhood full of fervent evangelical Christianity is what gives Blankets its emotional depth. Craig and Raina meet at a Christian winter camp: she is clearly, of the two, the less enraptured of the with the whole scene, and her free-loving attitude brings Craig out of his half-committed, half-doubtful shell. Sadly, the week too quickly comes to an end, and the new lovers — who are clearly infatuated with each other but not willing to assign the “girlfriend/boyfriend” label — must part: Craig lives in Wisconsin, Raina in Michigan. They commence a fruitful correspondence, sending sketches (Craig), poems (Raina), mix-tapes, and letters to one another, before Craig arranges a visit to Raina’s house over Christmas break. This one-week of pure bliss, as the two savor in each other’s company as only first-time lovers can, is the book’s centerpiece.

Raina’s parents are newly-separated, and planning to divorce: this unfortunate circumstance gives the young lovers a glorious stretch of unsupervised freedom. One the second day of the visit, Raina asks Craig to sleep in her bed, so that they do not have to say goodnight and part ways, and he hesitates but agrees after they decide to set the alarm for 5 am so Craig can slip back into the guest room undetected. This stretch of panels was my favorite part of the book, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tearing up as I read. As Raina is getting ready for bed, Craig changes into his pajamas and he recites appropriate Bible verses to himself: “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that commiteth fornication sinneth against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18); “Can a man take fire into his bosum and his clothes not be burned? — Can he go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:28). He begins to sweat as he considers his fears, but then Raina reenters, and on the next page she is drawn as an angel in white, and Song of Solomon comes to Craig’s mind: “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you. You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes” (4:7,9). After a night of pure bliss (there is no fornication; they merely fall asleep in each other’s arms), Craig returns to the guest room, offering prayers of thankfulness to God. He stops to think, “Perhaps I should feel guilty” but realizes that this is false; he in fact feels “as clean and pure as the snow” which is falling outside.

Blankets beautifully tells the story of a young man who overcomes his upbringing, and the feelings of distrust towards the earthly and the body that dominated it. Through a tale of new love and self-discovery, Craig emerges victorious, triumphing over the limited, demeaning world-view that shaped his childhood. I could offer a few passing critiques about Thompson’s style and the few times his sweetness becomes saccharine, but instead I’ll say this: if you’re looking to break into the world of graphic novels, but don’t consider yourself a reader of comic books, Blankets would be a fantastic place to begin.

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8 comments

  1. Didn’t mention this in the post, but another (even better) place to begin if you want to dive into graphic novels is Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home which just came out last year. It’s one of the best of all time, says I.


  2. You’ve made Blankets sound really, really tempting. I wonder if any of the local bookstores carry these kind of books? They do graphic novels but they’re usually manga.


  3. A fair chance they’d have Blankets at a Borders or Barnes & Noble — it won all kinds of awards in 2003 (or 2004). I actually checked this copy out from the library, so that’s worth a try too.


  4. I checked and, as it turns out, one store has *both* the Thompson and the Bechdel! (They have the Bechdel in hardcover and paperback.) What a pleasant surprise.


  5. Yes! I would go with Fun Home first; it’s considerably better, and more literary by a mile. From what I’ve gathered of your taste, Fun Home is certainly the better choice.


  6. Hi Ted. I love your words about this novel. (I do love reading things you write.) They were a breath of fresh air for me today. I am going to check out this book during my next library visit. I can’t wait. I’ve been looking for a good book, and I was hoping for something a little bit different. Thanks, friend.


  7. […] finished Craig Thompson’s Blankets in a day, my first graphic novel. I read about it at Ted’s. He recommended I read Bechdel’s Fun Home first because it would suit my […]


  8. Very nice!!



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