Calling Dr Laura by Nicole J Georges is a graphic memoir that I devoured rather than read. It begins with the author sharing about a crush she had on a girl, a physical attraction that grew stronger but not strong enough to sustain a romantic relationship. The memoir quickly moves to Nicole’s birthday when her friend takes her to a psychic and is told by the psychic that her father is not dead.
This news is confusing, at first, and the reader quickly learns that Nicole’s family of origin is complicated, that she has always felt like an outsider and, as she tries to get to the truth of who she is, she reveals more truths about her family as well as herself. Georges does an excellent job of moving from the recent past to the more distant past, stylistically differentiating the two timelines of her story. The more recent past is drawn with more sophistication while her more distant past is told in simplistic, more child-like visuals. The grey wash used in the more recent narrative suggests not only a more mature artistic ability but a way of seeing things; just as a mature person can see things with a subtlety allowing for shades of grey, the artwork layers a subtle understanding that things simply do to fall easily into black and white rationales.
When the author shifts the story into her childhood, the drawings are black and white but equally evocative as she shares the story of her mother’s desperate urge to create a family. The simplicity of the drawings also implies how memories fade, recollection less nuanced than the more immediate experience. Just as a child sees things as right/wrong, true/false, black/white, the way Georges illustrates is part of her story is perfectly matched.
If the young Nicole sees things in simpler terms, the adult Nicole is able to address herself to the very contradictions that Walt Whitman claimed to contain. What could be considered merely an affect is used to such good effect that I can't believe other graphic memoirists haven't done it before!
I kept trying to set this memoir aside because I had other things I needed to do, only to find myself gravitating back to where I had put it down last. Of course, it will inevitably be compared with other graphic memoirs, most especially Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. After all, both tell the story of a young woman coming to terms with the secrets her family carry and how the burden of things unsaid impacts the individual.
Georges’ story is less literary than Bechdel’s and, frankly, less satisfying, but it is also more quirky, a lighter read than her predecessor’s. From rescuing chickens and dogs to exploring her various ways of expression herself creatively, she is as much an outsider because she embraces an alternative persona. Even when her friends criticize her for listening to The Dr Laura show, she offers no apology. It’s just one more detail that sets her apart from others. Her sense of not fitting in is both part of who she is in spite of herself and something she embraces. I confess, I'm a sucker for anyone who offers no apologies.
I suspect that part of the reason I enjoyed this memoir so much is how some of Georges’ story reminded me of Janice Erlbaum’s own memoir, a personal favorite as I’ve mentioned in my blog before. I also empathized with her curiosity, the desire to know who her father is and why he was not a part of her life. If I could not personally relate to the details of her story, they are, nonetheless, familiar enough that I cared deeply about how her memoir would conclude. Would she meet her father? Would she make peace with him? Or her mother, who lied to her for so many years? And with herself? These are the questions the memoir could answer and some are answered more fully than others. After all, life itself is a process and closure is over-rated, a superfluous rarity. I can't wait to pass this on to my daughter. I'm sure she will find it interesting for many of the reasons I did.