“Rosalie Lightning” by Tom Hart (2016)

I am not a parent, so I cannot even fathom what it must be like to have a child and then lose that connection. I feel the need to premise this post with that disclaimer because my reaction is not informed by any personal connection to the themes and events brought up by Tom Hart’s very personal work. I understand that this graphic memoir is extremely personal to the author and is in many ways a catharsis unto itself after having lost his two year old child, and I hope to be respectful of that.

rosalie lightning

Last year, when I began this blog, my very first post was about graphic novels/memoirs. For the purposes of that post I read a collection of works by the likes of Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, and Roz Chast. Prior to that post, and the couple of weeks that preceded it, I had never read a graphic novel. Since then I have gone back to fiction and the works that make up my personal academic research. Then I came across a couple of weeks ago a review of Tom Hart’s work and decided to give it a try, and thus ordered my copy on Amazon. It’s a quick read, even if, as noted above, the topic and themes presented in it are quite heavy.

tom hart
Tom Hart

I am having a hard time knowing how to discuss this work because I am extremely sensitive to the hardship that is recounted in this work, and yet found myself profoundly disliking the work and the narrative voice throughout. The biggest issues I personally had with the work dealt with the focus: I so wanted Hart to make us all fall in love with Rosalie, the daughter he lost, and show us the full extent of her personality and life. We get snapshots and glimpses of who Rosalie was, but those moments are as fleeting as the memories of her after her sudden death. Instead the reader is treated to endless discussions of financial hardship, literary discussions that feel as incongruous as a Family Guy cutaway, and crypto-spirito-religious reflections. I really wanted to like this work, I just was never given a reason as to why Hart wrote this graphic work. It doesn’t appear to be very cathartic, and content-wise it keeps shifting… there just doesn’t seem to be much of a connective thread. I study trauma and recognize some signs of traumatic experience in this work, but still found myself shut out from the reading experience.

Most reviews, both professional and by general readers, are superlatively positive – praising the work and applauding what Hart accomplished. So I will end my short review by not saying anything else, because clearly I am in the minority.

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