I’m Not Here by GG

Room Magazine - - CONTENTS - LAUREN KIRSHNER

While read­ing GG’s new graphic novel, I’m Not Here, I was re­minded of a short story by Del­more Schwartz, in which the nar­ra­tor goes into a cin­ema and, much to their amaze­ment and dis­may, finds that the film be­ing screened is of their par­ents’ first meet­ing. Know­ing the sorry end to that story, the spec­ta­tor must nonethe­less sit through the film as a sense of help­less­ness and alien­ation sets in. The pro­tag­o­nist of I’m Not Here is also drift­ing be­tween mem­ory and wak­ing life. She lives in the sub­urbs and is torn by rest­less­ness and a sense of daugh­terly duty. Her im­mi­grant par­ents ap­pear in ghostly se­quences, try­ing fu­tilely to heal their own trauma. She is haunted by her in­abil­ity to res­cue or sat­isfy them. There’s

a galac­tic empti­ness and a pro­found dig­nity to the nar­ra­tor as she shut­tles through spare rooms, empty sub­ur­ban streets, search­ing. What gives I’m Not Here its ten­sion is the nar­ra­tor’s strug­gle to find a sense of home. Through­out, the con­cept of home is un­sta­ble. Her adult­hood apart­ment dis­solves into her child­hood home. She sees her fa­ther driv­ing on an empty street. He treats her like a stranger and asks her for di­rec­tions home. The nar­ra­tor’s mother laments her own im­mi­gra­tion: “I shouldn’t have come to this coun­try. I gave up my old life.” In the present tense, the nar­ra­tor can’t find her house keys and is ef­fec­tively locked out of her own home; in a flash­back to child­hood that re­verses the sce­nario, she longs for free­dom and one day leaves her fam­ily home through her bed­room win­dow. This ten­sion be­tween long­ing for free­dom and long­ing for home runs through the en­tire book. The trauma of im­mi­gra­tion and the painful pas­sage of child­hood into adult­hood res­onate pow­er­fully through this metaphor of home. The spare and su­perb black and white draw­ings ra­di­ate dreami­ness and a melan­choly re­al­ity. The sparse text re­quires the reader to be­come ac­tive. I’m Not Here is in­deed a dance be­tween dis­ap­pear­ing and ap­pear­ing. The nar­ra­tor, a photographer who de­vel­ops her own pho­to­graphs, ap­pears her­self in the open­ing pan­els in pro­gres­sive shades of grey, like film re­veal­ing its la­tent im­ages in a chem­i­cal bath. Full of mys­tery, I’m Not Here asks the reader to fill in gaps. We are plunged into the very root­less­ness the nar­ra­tor is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing her­self. At the heart of I’m Not Here is a re­jec­tion of meta-nar­ra­tives, of spell­ing out “why” we be­come who we are. In its place is the mas­ter nar­ra­tive’s re­verse: the wor­ship for tiny things. GG gives this ephemera a royal treat­ment, sug­gest­ing that the stuff of ev­ery­day life is life and de­serves our rev­er­ence: the vein-like struc­ture of grape stems, the 1980s puffy font on a vend­ing ma­chine, the Chi­nese char­ac­ters on a plaster ban­dage pack­age. Through GG’s nar­ra­tor, we get the lux­ury of ob­serv­ing the world in minute de­tail, an awak­en­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The cin­e­matic qual­ity of I’m Not Here is height­ened by the black­out pages be­tween sec­tions that of­ten ar­rive un­ex­pect­edly at emo­tional cli­maxes, art­fully deny­ing the reader easy res­o­lu­tions. These in­ter­mis­sions pro­duce the sen­sa­tion of sit­ting in a dark cin­ema af­ter a stun­ning movie has just ended. I’m Not Here is a starkly beau­ti­ful graphic novel about yearn­ing, home, and es­cape. Lauren Kirshner

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