Young Adult Lit/Crit

March 17, 2008

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

Filed under: Look What I'm Reading for Book Club! — scrollman @ 2:05 pm

This is a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while now.  Whenever you do a search for the best graphic novels, it is usually in the top ten, and has received major critical acclaim. I am about half way through the novel, and it is rather difficult to describe.  The story focuses on the character of Jimmy, who is graphically depicted as an old man (even as a child), but by all other descriptive accounts is really middle aged.  We follow Jimmy through a series of stream of consciousness vignettes, which often focus on his relationship with his overbearing mother (who constantly calls him at his non-descript office job), and his father, who he has recently come back into contact with, after years of abandonment.  The story has a very sad, dreamlike quality to it: almost like something out of a Edward Hopper painting.  Jimmy is in desperate need of connection and love, but seems trapped in a world where he is either ignored or emotionally abused.  Although he has grown into an old man (metaphorically speaking), he is still a child, and remains attached to the kind of childhood sci-fi/ superhero fantasies of the post WWII generation.  These fantasies slip into the narrative, almost the way they would slip into the mind of a schizophrenic.  For example, in one scene, Jimmy’s father comes home as a robot, and Jimmy, old and bald, runs to the door and flings himself upon him, kissing and hugging him like a child would.  Two scenes later, Jimmy is the robot, sleeping on an airplane, with a peach tree growing next to him (of symbolic significance on the previous page) and a white bird perched on the head rest.  In many ways, this book is like a stream of conciousness poem, which constantly challenges the reader to interpret the various symbols, almost like the way one would interpret a dream.Because of the highly abstract nature of this novel, I would only recommend it for a senior honors class, or a student who wants a real challenge.  The book is clearly a work of genius, and is beautifully illustrated (the pictures alone are sometimes enough to make you cry: not because they are overtly sad in any kind of tangible way, but just evoke a loneliness that we all feel without being able to pin it down).  Needless to say, I have really fallen in love with this book, but I think most high school kids might find it too weird and obtuse. Jonathan


1 Comment »

  1. Josh told me about this book last semester! Josh I hope you’re going to comment on this one! I am teaching my health class tonight and one portion of my topic includes schizophrenia, so I was immediately interested in your comment about it. After seeing a schizophrenic artist’s work (Louis Wain) on You Tube

    I was incredibly moved by your comparison here. Writing a story in a schizophrenic style: I’d love to read it. It is an amazing instance of looking at life through another person’s consciousness; the difference is so drastic that it helps to define your own consciousness.

    Thanks for nudging me to read this book. Sorry I didn’t jump on it when you told me about it Josh. No offense. I’m a slow learner.

    Comment by joycehansen — March 18, 2008 @ 11:27 am

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