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Thursday, May 7, 2020

'Something New' and 'Kid Gloves' by Lucy Knisley


Lucy was another single girl in New York City, traversing the dating world and her own heartbreak, when her ex-boyrfriend John swings into town for a visit, with a special box hidden in his toiletry kit. This is a story about suddenly finding yourself completely ecstatic while also being completely at sea. Traversing the foreign world of wedding planning, Lucy and John will face family drama, gender stereotypes, and giant fluffy dresses on the way down the aisle. (First Second Books, 2016)


If you work hard enough, if you want it enough, if you’re smart and talented and “good enough,” you can do anything.

Except get pregnant.

Her whole life, Lucy Knisley wanted to be a mother. But when it was finally the perfect time, conceiving turned out to be harder than anything she’d ever attempted. Fertility problems were followed by miscarriages, and her eventual successful pregnancy plagued by health issues, up to a dramatic, near-death experience during labor and delivery.

This moving, hilarious, and surprisingly informative memoir not only follows Lucy’s personal transition into motherhood but also illustrates the history and science of reproductive health from all angles, including curious facts and inspiring (and notorious) figures in medicine and midwifery. Whether you’ve got kids, want them, or want nothing to do with them, there’s something in this graphic memoir to open your mind and heart.

‘Something New’ is the 2016 graphic novel memoir by Lucy Knisley, and ‘Kid Gloves’ is her 2019 one.

I’ve loved Lucy Knisley’s graphic-novels and social-media ever since she came out to Melbourne for our Writer’s Festival in 2013, and I purchased a copy of ‘Relish’. After that, I followed Lucy across all channels and heartily enjoyed the glimpses into her growing life that she afforded fans and followers.

‘Something New’ is the story of how Knisley and her husband John, got married – but like all of her autobiographical work, it delves deeper than just the surface-level recounting of events and milestones. Knisley really mines her emotional and personal journey, and in ‘Something New’ she starts like a new friend would, by filling readers in on all the background stuff they should know before launching into the through-line – like the fact that she and John were broken up kind of unofficially, when he proposed.

The graphic-novel maps her and John’s up and down relationship, and the point at which they decided to tie the knot. From there the focus is on how they went about managing their ‘wedding fever’ and planning what can be one of the biggest expenses in young people’s lives … but Knisley being an artist and a proudly bisexual woman, also delves into her discomfort with many of the heteronormative (or outright bonkers) traditions of wedding and marriage, the uncomfortable franchise of nuptials; so the book becomes a longer-view of how she and John go about building a future life together through the microcosm of this one event and how they make it more personal and significant *to them*.

‘Kid Gloves’ is the book I was really looking forward to, if only because in 2016 on her social-media channels (and since then) Knisley has spoken candidly of how close she came to dying while giving birth to her and John’s first child, Pal (not his real name, but a nickname for ‘Palindrome’ for his unique birth date). Knisley suffered preeclampsia and lost a lot of blood, they put her in an induced coma and while Pal was perfectly healthy, the birth left Knisley with a few ongoing health-problems. So I always knew ‘Kid Gloves’ would be a tough but vital read within the ‘series’ of Knisely’s memoir graphics. And it is, whoo boy.

I cried a lot reading ‘Kid Gloves’ – for both Knisley’s personal story, but also for how she links her journey of motherhood (through two miscarriages, depression, and then a near-death birthing experience) to wider societal and medical realities for women. She delves into the fact that women’s bodies and childbirth in particular were for so long misunderstood, shamed, and abused by the health profession, and largely because it was entirely made up of men and with religious bents. And it’s not much better in America now – without universal healthcare, and a system that largely undermines and lets black women die at a much higher rate and for entirely preventable reasons (as a snapshot; ‘The U.S. maternal mortality rate has more than doubled from 10.3 per 100,000 live births in 1991 to 23.8 in 2014.’ Compared to; ‘The maternal mortality rate in Australia in 2017 was 6 deaths per 100,000 women giving birth.’ That’s *insane* that that’s the American maternal mortality rate, and it’s climbing every year.)

Knisley manages to link a lot of past and current medical failures when it comes to women’s bodies, to a much deeper denial of women’s experiences and proper education of their bodies starting from a young age. It’s really profound, and very moving.

And then of course it was Knisley’s personal journey; her openness about her miscarriages and the depression they threw her into, the battle she was undergoing with her body – both in wanting to get pregnant, when she did finally and was violently ill, and then the ultimate betrayal of it nearly killing her (and within all that; the guilty, self-hate and trauma that’s increased by societal guilt and pressure … oh, the way she interweaves all of this is catharsis on so many levels.)

I am not married, nor do I have kids. I, in fact, have always known that I never want to be married and never want to have kids – Knisley acknowledges and cheers this choice amongst women too, there’s absolutely no shame. But I still loved and connected to these books, as I do all of Knisley’s stories. Yeah, it’s that I just like *her* and think she’s ace, but it’s more than that – she’s a gifted storyteller, somebody who can weave the personal amongst the political and societal and that’s very hard to do in such a warm and compelling way. But Lucy Knisley does it, every damn time.


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