Mar 21, 2013

Calling Dr Laura by Nicole Georges

Calling Dr Laura by Nicole Georges

It’s difficult to resist comparing Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. They’re quite different in tone, but both are autobiographical graphic novels by queer women who are trying to make sense of their complicated family dynamics, and who find their artistic voices along the way. Nicole Georges, a zinester and cartoonist from Portland, discovers at the age of twenty-three that the father she thought was dead her whole life is in fact very much alive. Calling Dr. Laura jumps back and forth between the present day and Nicole’s childhood to tell a smart and moving story about one young woman coming to terms with new truths about her life.

There are many reasons to love Calling Dr. Laura — the gorgeous and detailed artwook, the witty writing, the lovely representation of f/f romance, the moments of humour intermingled with the darkness — but my main one is the fact that Georges tells her story with such kindness. Her mother, who lied to her about her father’s death, is still a part of Nicole’s life, and their relationship is fraught, to put it mildly. It would be easy to dehumanise her, and it would be understandable if Georges had chosen to tell the story of her experiences as a wronged daughter unilaterally. However, she makes an effort to understand why her mother might have acted the way she did, and her story is all the more moving for it.

Calling Dr. Laura is a story about compromise, and I’ve noticed again and again how drawn I am to those. It’s a story about, as George puts it just before the epilogue, “cutting [one’s] losses and moving on”. She chooses to attempt to have a relationship with her mother even though there are severe limits to what she can expect from it emotionally because, as she puts it, she “already had a an empty, hollow feeling where [her] father should had been” and she “didn’t want a severed connection in the place of [her] mother, too”.

I want to add some caveats here, because I worry about upholding dangerous cultural myths about families and how people are always better off with them than without them. All emotional ties have the potential to become toxic, and families are no exception. Sometimes people really are better off without their families, and on top of everything else they’ve gone through, they shouldn’t have to deal with being guilt-tripped for what’s likely to have been a difficult decision.

Still, Nicole Georges’ attempts to go for something other than a clean break really resonated with me. Close relationships, family ones or otherwise, are often only sustainable because you make a conscious decision to let go; to keep a person you care about nearby regardless of their imperfections; to readjust according to how much you know you can realistically expect the other person to give. Sometimes this requires a radical revision of your expectations of said relationship, but opting for that instead of a “severed connection” can be the right thing for you. It makes me happy to find stories that acknowledge that.

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Debi said...

Oh, this sounds even more wonderful than I'd imagined! Thanks, yet again and always, for the lovely review, Ana! I'm going to have a hard time not cracking open the cover of this one today, despite the fact that I have too many books in progress already.

Ana @ things mean a lot said...

Debi, it's such a quick read! You know you want to give in :D

bermudaonion said...

I love graphic memoirs!

Bookgazing said...

I've never heard of this before. Thanks for alerting me to a book that sounds right up my alley.

Zibilee said...

I feel like this is one that I need to read. I van relate to some of the character's feelings about her family, and have made some of the same choices. I will be looking for this one right after I leave here.

Ana @ things mean a lot said...

Kathy: I like them too, and this one's a particular good example od what they do best.

Jodie: Free for borrowing at any time from my personal lending library :D

Zibilee: Yep, you and me both. This one hit pretty close to home.

Buried In Print said...

::sound of scribbling as it's added to the TBR::

Thanks: this sounds terrific!

MJ said...

I've been looking for some graphic novels to add to the tbr list. I'm a big Alison Bechdel fan, so this sounds perfect. Not to mention I also have a rather, ahem, difficult relationship with my mother, so it will be interesting to see how the author chooses o navigate hers.

Charlie (The Worm Hole) said...

I've read about this one before, but the way you've written this and what you've looked at, I realise this is one I perhaps need to read. Identifying with you and Zibilee.

Joanna said...

This sounds great! I have to admit that I recently tried reading Fun Home and didn't like it, but that was because I just couldn't connect with the main character and therefore the author. Though I do admire what she has done to change perceptions and the Bechdel test, etc.

Chris Howard said...

YES YES YES! You said so perfectly how I felt about this book. For now on, if I read a book that you've read too my reviews will just be "see Ana's" :p But when you said that this book is about compromise, that's really perfect. I have those relationships in my family too where I've had to just compromise because I don't want them gone from my life completely, but I can't have them quite so close. So I've redefined them. And that's ok. And you're right...Georges did a wonderful job portraying that. I just loved this one so much. It's also really interesting that you compared this one to Fun Home because I swear I get the two confused in my head ALL THE TIME! But I think it's because I read them back to back which probably wasn't a good idea, lol.