Award-winning children’s author David Small takes readers on an unforgettable journey into the dark.
ANGST always makes for a bestseller, especially in a memoir, and David Small’s Stitches seems to have cornered the market for it.
Small’s graphic memoir of his childhood, however, isn’t the usual coming-ofage yarn, characterised by teenage depression over unfulfilled sexual fantasies.
It is, instead, a voyeuristic glimpse into his very personal physical and emotional pain as he struggled to find his voice, literally and metaphorically.
Growing up in the industrial city of Detroit in the 1950s, Small’s life was shadowed by silence. His family was not one to share feelings or niceties, preferring to let their unhappiness seethe and bubble below the surface.
The smallest sounds spoke volumes of unspoken emotions: “Mama’s little cough” and her slamming of the kitchen cupboard doors, Dad’s thumping of his punching bag and Ted’s beating of his drumset.
Amidst this thick cloud of silence, Small, an award-winning illustrator of children’s books (Caldecott-Medal, etc) expressed himself by falling ill often. His father, a doctor, selfprescribed treatments for his son’s conditions. For his son’s digestive problems, he gave enemas, medicines and shots. For his sinus problems, Small was subjected to numerous X-rays at extremely high doses of 200-400 rads.
(“Rad” is the traditional unit of measurement for radiation. 200 rads is equivalent to 20,000 times the dosage of a typical chest X-ray today; however, it should be acknowledged that there may have been a degree of creative license in Small’s recollection of his radiation therapy.)
The effects of the radiation was to surface later in his teenage years, in a nightmarish twist that led to him developing cancer (although it was kept secret from him) and an operation that removed one of his vocal