Hyperbole and a Half: Allie Brosh

There are a lot of things that are difficult to write about, and one of those at the top of the list is depression. It’s poorly understood, for one thing, and usually impossible to justify for another, but those are only two things. Furthermore, it’s difficult to write about depression in a manner that isn’t either pitiful or clinical–neither of which are approaches that welcome people to a discussion. Brosh has used her *ahem* limited drawing skills to augment her discussion in this comic-cum-novel titled Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to use comics, an inherently light-hearted form, to talk about something inherently, well, depressing, like depression, it’s actually a semi-common tactic that increases the impact of the discussion, rather than undermine it. Let me put it this way: by undercutting the seriousness of the situation, the seriousness is actually intensified.

 

Brosh takes the time to tell some stories about her life, both in terms of her childhood and her present, and they mix together in random ratios until it’s sort of confusing to which time period she’s actively referring

 

Using such characters as Simple Dog and Helper Dog (the two pets she and her significant other adopted, to frequently disastrous (of varying degrees) results), younger versions of her self, and other people in her life, and through a series of allegories, Allie discusses quite a lot of unfortunate situations and mayhem, just as the title promises. I think, though, that the main reason I like this book as much as I do is because, through few words and the use of MS Paint illustrations (oi), Allie has captured what it is to be depressed. Obviously, depression is a multi-faceted thing and is not the same for everyone. Certainly my journey has not been hers–I, for one, never found a dried up corn kernel to be hysterical–but the template is really what’s relatable. Depression has a tendency to manifest in one of two ways:

 

  • You are either interminably, irrevocably sad for no reason whatsoever, OR
  • you are entirely apathetic and lack motivation to do or feel anything. At all.

These two frames do have the ability to blend together sometimes, and this is when depression is perhaps most difficult to deal with. Because there you’re perpetually sad, but you don’t care.

 

Having been dealing with clinical depression almost my entire life–as in I don’t remember a time in my life when it wasn’t looming over me in some capacity or another–I can say that Allie has hit the nail square on its head. Depression is a beast, and it’s a vicious cycle of apathy, sorrow, and anger, and if you finally manage to escape the undertow and break the surface, you know that you’re only treading water until the next wave takes you back under. And while on a real beach, people who make it back to shore would seriously just hightail it from the beach, we’re stuck there. Our ride left us the second we were out of sight, and we don’t remember the way up and out, leaving us stranded in this limbo space where we can function like normal people, but with the constant view of the water in our peripherals while we wait for it to crash back over us and drag us away.

 

Anyway.

 

Hyperbole and a Half includes stories about a birthday cake for Brosh’s grandma when she was little (Grandma didn’t get cake), the reaction of Simple and Helper Dog upon moving from Montana to Oregon, a lie about hot sauce, and a “time capsule” letter written by her 7-year-old self more concerned about her favorite dogs than whether her parents were still alive. It’s often a shit-show, but it’s amusing, and it’s real. Real life doesn’t make sense like fiction does, and depression is like Perfection, forcing you to attempt to put your pieces into the correct frames in a very anxious manner to save yourself from the board violently expelling all of your hard work and virtually laughing in your face while you dejectedly pick up the pieces and attempt to start over. Yay. I know.

 

When it comes down to it, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I laughed a lot, even when I thought I maybe shouldn’t have. I highly recommend this book whether you suffer from depression or have a family member or close friend who does–and you should know that, with depression statistics what they are, you almost definitely know someone relatively close to you who suffers from some form of depression.

 

Also: The dedication page says “For Scott. What now, fucker?” and I think that’s awesome.

 

By the way, you guys know this meme:

 

It happens to have its origin in this book, or at least her blog in case you’re interested in origins. haha

Murder of Crows: Anne Bishop (The Others, Book 2)

Murder of Crows is the sequel to Written in Red–reviewed here. Published in March of this year, this book is only available digitally or in hardcover–for a whopping $26.95, I should mention. I downloaded a digital copy to tide me over until a paperback copy is available.

The start of this novel is not immediate after the end of the previous, although the temporal distance between them is essentially negligible. Things in the human spaces are tense, and “gone over wolf”–the drug unveiled in Written in Red–is making its way around Thaisia.

Humans are baiting the Crows by putting “shinies” (i.e. anything that might attract a crow’s attention) into trash cans on collection day and then poisoning food with GOW: attempted mass murder proceeds. Why Crows? Because they see everything and communicate with their crow counterparts–to put it simply, they know too much.

Although I am thoroughly enjoying Murder of Crows, I do have to admit that it doesn’t start out–by which I mean the first 20-some chapters–at quite the same level of intensity. The main drama takes place outside of Lakeside–and in a different region, though growing ever-closer–and the body of what’s taking place in Lakeside Courtyard is relationship drama between Meg and Simon. And we all saw that coming. The shoulders over which we’re peeking are frequently new to us, the names being dropped are not familiar ones–and while this can feel random to the unseasoned, perhaps unprepared reader, it provides one with a set of puzzle pieces illuminating different areas on a multi-faceted situation–because this thing is bigger than a puzzle, and more complicated than a sphere; it has edges that can’t be seen around and thus require new shoulders to illuminate those planes. I hope you’re following.

All the cassandra sangue are prophesying the same thing, regardless of the questions asked, and even the euphoria can’t mask the resulting terror/horror. Intuits–a breed of humans with terra indigene-like instincts–are sensing storms that have nothing to do with the weather. “Humans First and Last” is unfortunately gaining traction. Humans in Cel-Romano are building “flying machines.” The terra indigene have evicted an entire hamlet for their crimes against the Crows. In essence: Shit’s about to go down.

As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Bishop is placing the reader in a very precarious moral, or ethical, debate: whose side are you on? Are you more sympathetic of the humans and their effort to gain more control over the world in which they’re trying to live? Or are you more sympathetic to the Others, whose concern for the world outweighs their interest in the production of goods/services and the use for humans? While reading these novels, I am, of course, provided with the perspectives from both sides, and so I can sympathize with both humans and terra indigene. But am I supposed to sympathize with humans more because I am one, although am obviously living without the existence of a being higher up on my food chain? And if I am, what does it say if/that I’m not on the side of the humans? What does it say about me that I can ethically/morally/psychologically rationalize the motions of the terra indigene and their feelings? I don’t know at this point, but it’s an interesting question, and it’s one that won’t really leave me alone. I think that’s kind of the point.

This isn’t the only issue readers face: in dealing with the cassandra sangue, Namid’s wondrous and terrible creation, was it ethical to allow for benevolent ownership? Was it ethical for these girls to be ‘owned’ and essentially have their lives run as if they were prison inmates? Considering the self-destruction they caused if left to their own devices, was it ethical to let them exist on their own, without guardianship? Could we rationalize putting these girls into concentration camps to prevent them from potentially killing themselves?

While the issue is hardly literally relevant to society, it may be metaphorically ethical when thinking about other things or situations. Currently none come to mind, but I will own the blame for being largely ignorant of current affairs around the globe. In some respects, however, it does somewhat mirror the complicated issue that the United States had with the mental institution framework back in the 70s, with note to the abuse within the system. With a little thought–and perhaps some extrapolation–I’m sure the ethical question can be overlaid like a projection transparency* upon certain situations.

Murder of Crows was significantly shorter than Written in Red, coming in at 35 chapters and 354 pages–please don’t ask me to drop the chapter and page count of the first novel, but it at least felt like at least half again that long, if not twice. Consequently, I had it read in a very, very short amount of time–I bought it yesterday afternoon and finished it about an hour ago–and I have to admit that I’m kind of disappointed in its length. The ending is good, is concise, but definitely leading into another.

Until next time,

–Emily

*Did I just date myself by referencing that technology? I’m not even that old! The technology that we had in my school growing up was pretty old because we were a small school with few students (I graduated with a mere 21 other kids) and so we didn’t get all that much funding. Granted; I started school before 2000, so it’s not like other places had SmartBoards and we didn’t. But still.