Something New: Tales of a Makeshift Bride
by Lucy Knisley
First Second, $19.99, 304pp
Published: May 2016
Clearly I'm not the target audience for this book, but it still drew me in. Partly it's because it's published by First Second, the purveyor of the sort of graphic novels you haven't read and really should, but there are books on their roster that I don't have any interest in, at all. Mostly, though, I think it's because weddings, at least traditional ones with all the trimmings, make no sense to me in the slightest and I've never figured out why they do to others. Somehow I got the impression that the author of this book, Lucy Knisley, wanted answers to many of the same questions I had.
This graphic novel is a very personal volume; a cross between a diary and a scrapbook to document Knisley's own wedding. She is eager to have children (this is one of the reasons she split up with the man she eventually married) and I really see this book as something ready to show to the child she doesn't yet have at that crucial moment when she (fate will surely ensure that her firstborn will be a girl) prepares to sally forth upon her own journey into matrimony.
It serves as a joyous celebration and a cautionary tale, a mind dump and a memento, a trusty companion for the bride-to-be and a distraction from the nightmare of it all. And it works best of all as a place for Knisley to attempt to explain to people like me what weddings really mean by trying to figure it out herself as she does it. I found myself entertained, enlightened and at least a little more aware of the hellish torture that women go through once the date is set.
Given that it's so personal, I should honour that spirit with a little autobiographical contribution of my own. I'm not merely married, you see, I collect wedding roles. I started out as an usher and progressed up to officiant via many roles in between, from photographer to personification of pagan god. I've been a witness, a man of honour and a father of the bride, even though she wasn't my daughter. I've opened the speeches and eaten my weight in chocolate cake. And, of course, I've been a groom.
While Lucy happily said yes when John proposed to her, she had zero intentions of doing the traditional thing. She's a creator, a professional cartoonist, and she wanted a ceremony that felt right to her and her fiancé. She found that an uphill struggle and she caved on many things that her younger self would have hated her for, but she succeeded in making the event something which represented her and John as individuals. I like that and her burning desire to keep it theirs, rather than whatever the purveyors of conventional wisdom told her it should be, renders her immensely likeable.
I wanted the same things for my wedding, but the need at hand trumped any such wishes. I married a lady on another continent and entered the United States on a fiancé visa, so I was driven by legal requirements as much as romantic intentions. I couldn't even apply for permission to work without a marriage certificate and that wouldn't be forthcoming until I got married and paid more fees. So we got hitched in a courthouse with a couple who were friends of the bride as witnesses and my stepkids to be as the only other attendees. We adjourned to an all-you-can-eat buffet for the reception meal and my youngest stepson slept on the end of the bed that night. He was protective.
So, hardly romantic, huh? Well, eight years later, I managed to finally get my wife to my own country where she could meet her mother-in-law for the first time. We had a vow renewal in a nine-hundred-year-old church atop a cliff over the North Sea. My best friend's father took the service and my own family and friends attended. We adjourned this time to the second best fish 'n' chips shop in the world for a reception meal. And this was the grand finale to a couple of weeks travelling around countryside that my wife had dreamed about for decades. We did it right.
So there are some autobiographical notes of my own. This novel collates similar anecdotes of Lucy and John and they're just as wild and weird as mine, albeit in different ways. However, they continue for three hundred pages and they're illustrated by the charming drawings of the bride. This is her fourth book, if I'm counting correctly, and she knows exactly what she's doing. Her artwork is simple and rooted in crafting, but simple here means uncluttered and incisive rather than poor or primitive.
I found panels here that crunched down a conversation into one singular image that could stand alone from its companions and still tell a story. That's wonderful storytelling, even if they are each surrounded by an abundance of text. There's plenty of reading to do in this graphic novel, so if you prefer the art within such creatures rather than the words, this may be an odd challenge for you.
Another challenge is in the fact that this is a personal story for Lucy as opposed to Lucy and John. We do learn perspectives of the groom, but they're never the focus. This is about the female take on weddings and how they're run; which I found fascinating as a male. I've seen this from the fringes, such as when my eldest stepson got married and his fiancée went all out on things that he and I didn't understand in the slightest. Knisley goes some way to explaining this by highlighting how women are pressured as brides to be with targeted advertising, traditions, marketing, the works, all at inflated costs.
I was frustrated along with the author during her wedding dress search but I was elated along with her when she cut that Gordian Knot in twain. I adored each progressive deviation from the norm, such as having beignets instead of a wedding cake, but found insight in the few choices she made to stay traditional. The lesson that I took from this is to think about everything. If it really makes you happy then do it, but if it doesn't then ditch it and throw in something that you do want instead. It's OK. Lucy Knidsen has given you her permission.
I enjoyed this so much that I devoured it in one night (from a start after midnight) and finished up by torchlight. Yet I know I'm not the target audience for the book and, as I sometimes do with books or films I review, I plan to pass this on to someone else for a different perspective. I'm just not sure right now if I should have my stepson read it or his wife. Maybe I should ask both of them to give me their surely different opinions.
From my perspective, I loved it. Knidsen is somehow both a girly girl and a feminist reactionary and I found her struggle to keep her convictions intact while navigating the rapids of the wedding business a real treat. If I saw flaws, they were minor, such as the author's tendency to repeat herself on occasion. Such flaws certainly fail to distract us from the big picture, which is a window into a world that I'll never find myself in; even as I collect more wedding roles, because, of course, the one role I'll never collect is the bride. I married one of those instead and she's a delightfully contrary cuss too. I think she'd like Lucy Knudsen. ~~ Hal C F Astell