The number of post-it notes I used on this book alone could cover a small dog house. Can I say this is the best adult graphic novel ever without having read every other adult graphic novel? Do I sound like my mother after she praised that really bad eighth grade haircut and told me that we would just “run to Target and get some cute clips.” Thanks for the alliteration, Mom, but it was disastrous, for both my seventh grade high-status at the lunch table and my personal beliefs in my own self-esteem.
God made my mom sorta-Catholic so she could lay down the guilt via lectures, missed phone calls, and sweetness (yes, even her sweetness is guilty). I can ONLY imagine if she was a Jewish Russian Immigrant mother from the U.S.S.R like Lena Finkle’s mother in Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich. The world would literally be quaking. Literally. Literally. Literally. Isn’t it annoying when people say that when you know they meant it literal to begin with and it’s not a hyperbole at all? Ask yourself that. Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel is like the story of womanhood as it pertains to the male sex, and girlhood in general. It begs several questions: *How many friends do you have that disappear as soon as they get boyfriends? *How many of those friends become the stuck-up dark, unknown regions of their boyfriend’s body as soon as they begin dating? *How many times have you been unhappy, and unable to be yourself because you’re trying to keep the peace between you and the obnoxious invaluable boy you’re dating? *How many times has a guy smiled at you and BAM you’ve planned your 3.7892 children?
*(Longest sentence ever) How many times have you let one small miracle of a man blast your entire view of manhood and your princess experience into this other-worldly category that no one will ever be able to compete with because he was too good at ________ and all others will miserably fail in comparison and forever be the “frogs” you have to kiss because OH MY SWEET LORD, HE WALKED ME HOME IN THE RAIN AND MADE FACES AT ME IN ENGLISH 101 which I, unfortunately, got a C in because I was too busy MAKING FACES AT A BOY who would ruin my whole ideal of what it is to fall slowly. There is no slow with these miracle men who tell you fascinating things about yourself and then become chain-smoking losers. Yep. You know who I’m talking about. *How many times have you said, “Well, it isn’t really about how he looks?” Girl, please. It is 120% about how he looks in the first moment you meet. And you have already judged the scar next to his mouth and the way one of his eyes looks a little bit smaller than the other. And you’ve already texted your equivalent to a Seth (my best guy friend) to tell him all about him…in the bathroom.
*How many times have you let your past experiences with men like all of the above dictate what kind of dater you are now? *How many times have you wished for a magic barrel? And no, I don’t mean online dating here. (Even though she does that in the story on OK Cupid…which reminded me to never, ever, ever online date, ever. “Vampire of Bensonhurst,” that’s all I have to say about that one). Well, ladies, all of your (desperate, berating, disgusting, upsetting, I-dont-want-to-be-this-girl-but-I-am-this-girl, when-did-I-become-this-girl) questions have been answered by Anya Ulinich and the story of Lena Finkle. Lena Finkle is an immigrant girl living in Arizona/New York. During the story we learn about her childhood, a very disgusting happening in an elevator, and then her teenage love, Alik, who she continues to fantasize about …until she’s 36. She has some bad habits; sleeping around on the first date, sleeping with married men in foreign countries, being too blunt with her friends when they don’t have the same feelings towards her month-long flings as she does, but she’s SO likable. There were moments in this book when I had to remind myself that Ulinich wasn’t telling my life story. After reading it, I progressed to have a conversation with my best friend (Seth) about which countries we were because of the following images: I wonder if everyone has dated the “tourist.” The guy that comes and goes without giving even a half-nod towards closure. Which makes the girl stay up until 2 a.m. because she can’t quite figure out what she did wrong. Turns out, it’s him. But she won’t know that for 7.2 years when she forgives herself for being “that girl,” and finally moves on. Seth said, “Cassie. you are Sweden. // but we both can’t be Sweden // I’ll be Norway. boys are more exotic there.” And then he said, “You are Santorini // white pale and stunning // and surrounded by beautiful men.” And that folks, is why you keep best friends since 6th grade.
By the way, he’s the following: “You are Alaska where they have 37 words for snow and only one word for love because when you feel it like that it doesn’t need 700 words.” ———————————- Anyway, enough about me. This book is wonderful. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this endless pool of Mr. Right/Soul Mate/Marriage business. I don’t know why there’s so much pressure on women anyway to put on that white dress and take another last name. Lena Finkle made me feel like that was okay. Although, she was a little desperate, a little quick, and a little uncanny at times, so am I. I had a 30 minute conversation today about how blunt one should be with their friends. In case you’re wondering, I’m the blunt, bitchy friend in my circle of friends so usually people only come to me with a problem when they want the truth as I see it. (That was all about me, sorry). The graphics in this book are stunning. Most of the time I just wanted to laugh out loud at the illustrations to the side of all the words. I think that’s what makes this graphic novel so perfect, Ulinich found the perfect genre to tell a tale of sadness, pity, and redemption because there were laughable moments due to the comic nature of the graphic novel. (I guess they can be dark and brooding as well). When words got too dark on the page, I could count on an illustration that made it just that little bit better. The hope was in the hand drawn panels, faces, and bittersweet graphics.
Penguin had the right customer when they sent me an ARC of this one. It’s just beautiful in all ways. I think every woman should have to read this book just to think a little different about their friend’s experiences. Yes, we all get annoyed with that friend who’s constantly talking about a guy that is SO NOT RIGHT for her, but that’s what friends are for, because they’re forever. Yvonne and Eloise lift Lena up to be a better woman. She may not always listen to their advice, and they might not even follow their advice, but they give her that little nudge she may need to see things differently. Not only are they gem friends in this novel, but Lena’s subconscious acts as another character as well. At one point, Lena is obsessed with a man who already broke her heart, and she becomes the graphic image of a duck. Her subconscious picks at her, tells her inner thoughts and her “what ifs” just like that small inner voice that we all carry that whispers “stuff” when we just don’t want to hear it. Mine always says, “Told ya so,” A LOT.
Her subconscious is an integral part of the illustrations (she’s small, the same size as the duck Lena becomes), but she’s also witty and forward. She’s what we want to say to ourselves when we should put our foot in our mouth. I really liked that real-life aspect of this novel because it’s true. Our inner self screams everything we would never say aloud (unless we’re the blunt friend). In a world where no one is sure of themselves, this novel could make women feel just that little bit more accessible to one another. And that, is golden. AND AH – ANYA ULINICH HAS A TUMBLR. GO HERE NOW.