Tuesday, April 7, 2015

book review: Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich

The backstory: Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel was a 2014 New York Times Notable Book.

The basics:  "After fifteen years of marriage, Lena Finkle embarks on a string of online dates and receives a brutally eye-opening education in love, sex, and loss while raising her two teenage daughters."--publisher

My thoughts: I heard about this graphic novel when it was released last summer, but I was a million months pregnant and cranky. Then I forgot about it until it was named a 2014 New York Times Notable Book. It's still a big deal for a graphic novel (or graphic memoir) to make the list, and I was curious to dive in. I managed to read this lengthy (by comics standards) book in a single afternoon (it would have been a single sitting, but as happy as Hawthorne is to play by himself, he still likes to play with me too.)

As I read, I was struck by the rawness of Lena as a character. Although fictional, it reads like a memoir. I had to keep reminding myself that while Ulinich and Finkle may share some experiences and traits, this book is fictional. This tension strengthens the novel and is a testament to Ulinich's writing and character development that it all feels so real.

I was also struck by the quality of the writing itself. Often when I read comics I find myself focusing more on the images than the words. With this book, I found myself reading them in equal measure. Ulinich plays with the format of the page and size of drawings in really interesting ways. And for this novel being "serious literature," it's also laugh-out loud funny at times: "Can we stop talking about sex? You have a voice like those guys in sad indie bands..it’s making me want to cry and fuck at the same time."

Favorite passage:  "And although not surprising, it was disorienting that a place so essential to me held so little meaning to my most essential people."

The verdict: Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel is Anya Ulinich's first graphic novel, but it's not her first novel. I'm eager to read Petropolis too, and I'm curious to see where she goes next, and in which form.  

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Anya Ulinich's website, follow her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter

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  1. Ooh, this sounds good, and I hadn't heard of it before. Thanks!

  2. I am still on the fence with graphic novels. I read them when I was younger but they weren't all that popular then and the pickings were slim. I find that they can't hold my attention and I spend time rereading what I've just read. I think I just haven't found the right one yet.


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