'A WRINKLE IN TIME' AND THE JOURNEY OF HOPE LARSON

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TO ILLUSTRATE WHAT HULK MEANS BY THIS, FIRST HULK MUST EXPRESS THAT WRITING FEMALE CHARACTERS IS NOT SOME OBLIGATORY DUTY THAT HAS TO BE ENGAGED IN BY ALL COMICS. HECK, SOME OF HULK’S FAVORITE COMICS STAY OUT OF THE CONVERSATION COMPLETELY. HULK IS SIMPLY TALKING ABOUT APPROACHING THE ISSUE WHEN PRESENTED WITH A BASIC NOTION OF RESPECT. AND AGAIN, THIS ISN’T ABOUT DUTY, BUT UNDERSTANDING. BECAUSE WHEN LARSON TALKS ABOUT THE ROLE OF FEMALE CHARACTERS AND THE DIALOGUE HER WORK HAS WITH YOUNG GIRLS,  IT IS NOT PART OF SOME OVERALL MISSION, OR EVEN SOMETHING THAT CAN BE PLACED WITHIN A POLITICAL RATIONALE. HER PORTRAYALS OF FEMININITY ARE SIMPLY THE MOST OBVIOUS WAY OF APPROACHING STORY. AS SHE PUTS IT “The most honest things that I can do.” THERE IS LITERALLY NO PRETENSE. SHE IS SIMPLY WRITING STORIES. AND AESTHETICALLY SPEAKING, THERE IS AN HONEST FUNCTIONALITY TO THE FEMININE ILLUSTRATIONS IN HER ART. FOR INSTANCE, IN ONE PANEL A GIRL MAY BE GETTING OUT OF BED IN HER UNDERWEAR, BUT IT’S BOTH DE-SEXUALIZED WHILE NOT GOING SO FAR AS TO BE STERILE. MEANING THE IMAGE MAY BE BEAUTIFUL WITHOUT EVER GOING SO FAR AS TO BE EVOCATIVE. AND FOR A BOOK LIKE HORSES, WHICH IS ABOUT YOUNG ADULTS FINDING ROMANCE, THE SIMPLICITY OF THAT TONE AND PORTRAYAL RINGS SO DAMN TRUE. THIS IS NOT THE HISTORY OF “AWKWARD GROPING: THE TEENAGE YEARS!” BUT REALLY THE EMOTIONS AND EXPRESSIONS BEHIND THOSE KINDS OF ACTIONS. THERE IS A REAL SENSE OF INNOCENCE TO HER WORK AND THE CHARACTER OF NOEMIE  ESTABLISHES THE LINE OF WHAT HULK WILL AFFECTIONATELY REFER TO AS THE “TRADITIONAL HOPE LARSON HEROINES.” CHARACTERS ALL GUIDED BY THAT KIND OF NOSTALGIC INNOCENCE, BUT FULL OF A SELF-EFFACING AND SELF-DOUBTING DISPOSITION.

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NO MATTER HOW MUCH ONE MAY WANT TO STICK TO AN AESTHETIC, ART ALWAYS HAS A WAY OF BEING PART OF A NATURAL EVOLUTION. AND IT IS SO OFTEN ONE WHERE WE ARE GUIDED BY INSTINCT.

IN 2008 LARSON RELEASED HER NEXT GRAPHIC NOVEL, CHIGGERS (FOR THOSE UNAWARE, IT’S A TERM FOR HARVEST MITES). THE BOOK WAS REALLY HER FIRST FORAY INTO WHAT WE WOULD CONSIDER TO BE A MORE TRADITIONAL NARRATIVE APPROACH TO STORYTELLING. SAID NARRATIVE FOCUSES ON ABBY, A YOUNG GIRL WHO RETURNS FOR ANOTHER SUMMER AT CAMP WITH THE EXPECTATION THAT THINGS WILL BE LIKE THEY ARE EVERY SUMMER. BUT SO MUCH HAS CHANGED: HER SLIGHTLY-OLDER BEST FRIEND ROSE NOW BEING A CABIN ASSISTANT AND THE ALL THE GIRLS ARE HEADING HEADLONG INTO THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN THEIR CHILD-LIKE INCLINATIONS AND THE LOOMING SPECTER OF TEENAGE-DOM. UGH… WE ALL KNOW THAT WORLD. DATING. THE LACK OF BODY CONFIDENCE. THE INCREASING NATURE OF CONFORMITY AND CLIQUE-DOM. FURTHER COMPLICATING MATTERS FOR ABBY IS THE ARRIVAL OF SHASTA, A UNIQUE GIRL WHO CLAIMS TO HAVE BEEN STRUCK BY LIGHTNING AND BE DATING A HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR. SHASTA CHALLENGES ALL OF ABBY’S IDEAS ABOUT WHO HER FRIENDS SHOULD ACTUALLY BE, BUT OFTEN THE VERY THING THAT MAKES SHASTA COMPELLING AND A GOOD FRIEND CAN SOMETIMES BE THE VERY THING THAT IRKS HER. THE INNOCENCE OF SOCIALIZATION IS SIMPLY TURNED ON END. HULK FEELS THAT EVERY BIT OF THIS BOOK CAPTURES THAT VERY SPECIFIC TIME WHEN WE FIRST START TO EMBRACE THE TROUBLES OF ADOLESCENCE. AND IT’S SO MUCH MORE THAN THE POLITICS OF WHO LIKES WHO, OR PETTY FEELINGS. IT’S ABOUT THE WAY WE COME TO POSTURE OURSELVES IN TRANSITIONAL ENVIRONMENTS AND CREATE NEW IDENTITIES. BUT THE BEST PART OF THE BOOK IS HOW LARSON RARELY TREATS THIS “NOSTALGIA STORY” AS A MERE GAME OF REMEMBER WHEN AND INSTEAD REFLECTS UPON THE INHERENT TRANSITIONAL NATURE OF OUR LIVES AT ANY STAGE. IN THAT SENSE IT IS UNIVERSAL.

IT IS IN ALL HONESTY, CHIGGERS IS HULK’S FAVORITE BOOK IN HER OEUVRE. WHEN HULK TELLS PEOPLE THIS IT USUALLY IS MET WITH CONFUSION. THE BOOK DOESN’T OUTRIGHT EMBRACE THE PURE-ILLUSTRATIVE NATURE OF HER FIRST TWO EFFORTS, NOR DOES IT EMBRACE THE NOVELISTIC INTENTION OF THE WORK THAT WAS STILL TO COME. INSTEAD, IT TOES THIS PERFECT LINE BETWEEN THE TWO. AND MUCH MORE THAN THAT, IT JUST ARTICULATES THIS THING ABOUT GROWING THAT IS SO ACHINGLY HUMAN. PUT IT THIS WAY: CHIGGERS IS GOOD THE SAME WAY FREAKS AND GEEKS IS GOOD. AND IF YOU’VE WATCHED THAT SHOW HULK’S COMMENT REALLY TELLS YOU EVERYTHING. WHEN HULK MAKES THIS COMMENT TO LARSON ABOUT HULK’S FAVORITISM SHE SEEMS BOTH TAKEN ABACK BY THE MAGNITUDE OF THE OPINION (HULKS AREN’T EXACTLY SUBTLE) AND TRYING TO HIDE THE FACT THAT SHE’S SOMEWHAT GIDDY. SHE OUTRIGHT ADMITS “There’s a special place in my heart for that one.” AND ADMITS THAT ONCE AGAIN NOSTALGIA WAS THE FUEL FOR THE BOOK, BUT SHE NEVER OUTRIGHT CONCEIVED IT AS BEING “FOR YOUNG GIRLS.” THAT WAS UNTIL SOMEONE TOLD HER THAT IS WHO IT WAS FOR. TO SIMPLY SAY THAT CHIGGERS IS “FOR YOUNG GIRLS” IS TO CONFUSE WHAT THE SUBJECT “IS” WITH WHO IT IS ACTUALLY “FOR.” AND IN CASE IT’S NOT OBVIOUS, HULK IS PRETTY MUCH THE OPPOSITE OF A YOUNG GIRL IN THE PHYSICAL SENSE, SO IT HAS TO BE TESTAMENT TO THE KINDS OF EXPERIENCES AND EMOTIONS THAT UNIVERSAL.

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WITH 2010’S MERCURY LARSON COMMITTED TO HER LONGEST AND MOST “NOVEL-LIKE” BOOK TO DATE. THE STORY IS TOLD ACROSS TWO DISTINCT TIMELINES, ONE IN 1859 AND ONE PRESENT DAY, BUT BOTH ARE SET IN THE TOWN OF FRENCH HILL, NOVA SCOTIA. THE STORY INVOLVES A PRESENT-DAY YOUNG GIRL NAMED TARA LIVING AWAY FROM HER MOTHER IN THE AFTERMATH OF A FIRE. THE OTHER TIMELINE INVOLVES YOUNG COLONIAL GIRL NAMED JOSEY WHO MAKES DUE ON HER FARM UNTIL SHE BECOMES ENCHANTED WITH A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER WHO VISITS. THE TWO STORIES AND GROW TO SHOW THE SEAMS OF COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE, BUT IN MANY WAYS IT WORKS AS NOSTALGIA MADE LITERAL. LARSON ADMITS THAT SHE DIDN’T FEEL COMPELLED TO WRITE ABOUT NOVA SCOTIA UNTIL SOON AFTER HAVING RETURNED TO HER HOME STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA. IT IS AS THIS POINT THAT LARSON REVEALS THE PERFECT FACT THAT “I’ve never made a book about a place while I was still living there.” AT WHICH POINT, THE PATTERN BECOMES ACHINGLY CLEAR IN THAT HER NOVELS HAVE FOLLOWED HER AS SHE MOVED ABOUT: NORTH CAROLINA, CHICAGO, CANADA, BACK TO HOME. SO MANY OF THESE STORIES TOLD AS A WAY FOR HER TO CONTEXTUALIZE HER JOURNEY AND LOOK BACK, WHILE SO MANY CHARACTERS ARE TRAPPED IN THE VERY DILEMMA.

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