Monday, September 1, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: The Heartbreak Diet, by Thorina Rose

The Heartbreak Diet: A Story of Family, Fidelity and Starting Over, by Thorina Rose. Published 2008 by Chronicle Books. Graphica. Nonfiction. Memoir.

The Heartbreak Diet is a graphic novel written by San Francisco-based artist Thorina Rose as a reaction to the breakup of her marriage after her husband's affair with a younger woman. It's not a long book, but it rewards careful reading both for its emotional truths and its artistic merits.

Rose begins the story at the point when she learns that her husband, X, has taken up running with a younger, attractive partner. From there it is a quick jog to adultery and the slow dissolution of their marriage. She then takes the reader back in time to the beginning of her relationship with X, twenty years ago when they were barely out of their teens and living a romantic life of young love and world travel. Then life turned domestic- careers blossomed, kids were born, a house was bought. And then it went sour.

I got to see Rose read from and talk about The Heartbreak Diet on my recent vacation to San Francisco. I thought Rose did a nice job talking about the book and answering questions about both the book and her life. She also took a question from a certain visiting book blogger about her experiences promoting her book in the blogosphere- which she reported as being quite pleasant and interesting. Reading the book by itself was a better experience for me than hearing it read, though. Things that could come across as glib shorthand when read aloud take on much more emotional depth on the page, especially when accompanied by her beautiful, painterly drawings, which communicate even more than the dialogue. Rose tells the story without panels, in a loose, organic fashion that allows her to fashion the pictures without imposing a structure- a fitting choice for a story about a woman trying to reshape her own life after a devastating loss. She also fills the pictures with visual metaphors taken from fine art, like a dog representing fidelity. These details add to the fun of "reading" her pictures.

This book appealed to me because one thing that's not common in the world of graphic novels is a woman's story told by a mature woman (and I don't mean old- I mean someone out of the 20-something hipster demographic) dealing with serious life challenges. (Another book in that vein is Miriam Engelberg's Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, which I reviewed a while ago.) I'd recommend The Heartbreak Diet first to anyone who thinks "graphic novel" is just a fancy word for a kid's comic book, and second to anyone interested in women's stories and women's lives. I'm a big fan of books about women that respect women's strength and resilience, and I think The Heartbreak Diet is a great example.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.


sheistoofondofbooks said...

You know I love to meet/talk to authors! Interesting that you found it "better" to read *The Heartbreak Diet* than to listen to it read; I understand why, with your explanation.

This is one that was recommended to me when I so enjoyed *The Shiniest Jewel* (the first/only graphic novel I've read so far); it's on my infamous wish list!

LisaMM said...

I agree with your review! How exciting that you got to see Thorina in person.

I thought the artwork was superb and the story was honest and emotional without being depressing. This was my first (and only) graphic novel and I enjoyed it.