‘Something New’ by Lucy Knisley

August 24, 2016 at 6:04 am 1 comment

something-newLucy Knisley is known for her confessional, thoughtful, and fearless graphic novels. From her very first one (French Milk), she has illuminated each phase of her life with watercolor, grace, and humor. She’s written about everything from discovering your place in the world, caring for elderly relatives, making delicious food, and finding your ideal partner.

Her latest is called Something New and, in it, Knisley tackles a doozy: the modern American wedding. She does this in her usual way: with insight, history, and a serious deep-dive into the personal. She approaches the “industrial marriage complex” from the wide angle of society, but manages to inflect her exploration with her own personal experiences.

Both Kate and Corey read Something New this summer and, while they both love Lucy Knisley’s work but have fairly different perspectives on weddings, they decided to have a chat about it.

Corey: Weddings are such a personal topic — people seem to get anxious even when talking about hypothetical, future weddings — so I hope we’re still friends after this.

Kate: Um, of course we will be! But I agree, there’s so much emotion and stress inherent in weddings and marriage and wedding planning, which I think is why this book strikes such a chord. Knisley doesn’t try to paint a wedding as this wonderful, beautiful, perfect day — it’s a day that symbolizes a couple’s commitment to each other that, as so many things in life are, is inherently flawed.

Corey: Absolutely. But I think Knisley’s book is truly exceptional at capturing the best about weddings: the bringing together of everyone you love to celebrate love. The day after her wedding, as Knisley ponders the event, she is struck by how lovely and how important it was to gather everyone together in this way. Most often, you will never again have those people in a room together. I’d never thought about weddings that way!

Kate: Yes! I think she did a great job of unpicking all of the stuff that comes along with weddings and making it clear that it was the people there that were ultimately most important.

Corey: In Something New, I was really struck by how committed Knisley was to the notion of wedding, even as she didn’t seem to approve of most of the trappings. Since my own wedding qualms are mostly trappings-related, I kept wondering why she (and so many other brides) was going through with this whole Event when she seemed mostly opposed.

Kate: Because, as she points out, weddings are for other people. At least in my experience, our wedding started out as, “Hey, let’s have a party to celebrate our love and also bring our friends together!” and quickly devolved into, “Why does your mother need centerpieces and if she calls our wedding tacky one more time we are eloping.”

something-new3

Kate: Some of the trappings are fun! Lucy hates dress shopping, but she genuinely found satisfaction in wearing her perfect dress. And while the barn drove her crazy, her wedding ultimately became about basking in the love of friends and family. And, honestly, that’s precisely what a wedding should be — kinda like a funeral without anyone dying, where everyone says nice things about you and celebrates you!

Corey: The more “adult” life moments I experience, the more I am convinced that they are almost always for other people. Also, there’s something frustrating about the fact that, even on one’s wedding day, a Very Momentous Occasion, the moment still isn’t really just yours and your partner’s.

Kate: So annoying. Our honeymoon was for ourselves, though, and our engagement was for ourselves. So, those events almost became more meaningful for us because the wedding was so much about societal approval and other people. That being said, you can totally elope and make the wedding moment All About You! But then you might miss out on the friends and family gathered together to celebrate You! It’s all very complicated, I guess.

Corey: Very! So let’s focus on the one thing I think we can all agree on: never getting sick of hearing Lucy and John’s reunion love story. NEVER. She told it in her online web comic and she tells it again in Something New and I will simply never get sick of it. They’re just too perfect.

Kate: Agreed. I can’t imagine being apart for, what, five years, and then being like, I still love you and let’s get married. It is too cute and they are too perfect and I love them. They’re going on the list for my hypothetical dream dinner party. So far it’s them and the Obamas.

Corey: Whoa, solid dinner party choices! I’d find the Obamas terribly daunting dinner company!

Kate: Well, yeah, but Michelle seems like she’d try to make everyone comfortable and compliment my pesto, so I think it would work out.

Corey: Yes! Michelle would probably make it all seem somehow bizarrely normal.

Corey: But moving along! Was it just me or did Something New seem more overly navel-gazing than her previous books? It didn’t feel as insightful as her earlier stuff to me and had much more of a focus on straight-forward “here’s my adventure in the Bridal Industrial Complex” with a strong dollop of humble-bragging about how individual and magical and DIY her wedding was.

Kate: That’s so funny, because I didn’t get that from her at all! Planning a wedding is sooooo inherently navel-gazing, because every single freaking choice you make is 1) scrutinized by all of your friends and family, 2) says something about who you are as a person and society and feminism, 3) is immortalized in every freaking picture of that day for eternity, 4) is supposed to be magical and special and aughhhhhhhh.

Corey: You see why I am somewhat averse to weddings. That all sounds tremendously stressful and mostly awful.

Kate: Let’s agree to call it a rite of passage? :) This book is not about humble bragging, as far as I’m concerned — this was a survival story. I did think some of the stuff she did wouldn’t have been possible if she wasn’t a work-at-home artist who also happened to be writing a book about her wedding (and so had time to do things like glue little flags onto string and make ties for the groomsmen). She also had the benefit of family and friends close by, as well as convenient connections in the catering business, a free venue, and the time and ability to do things herself. This is not the average experience of most people planning a wedding, honestly, but I think most people want to be able to plan it this way, if that makes sense?

Corey: Sure! Yes, her wedding planning sounded as painful as the next, but by the same token it was a little idealized because of her connections and perks.

something-new2Kate: To me, she seemed a little overly critical of the bridal industry. There is literally no other time in one’s life that a woman can dress up as a princess in a socially acceptable way. The bridal industry is the way it is because we, as a society, place so much of an emphasis on the perfect wedding. It is what we made it.

And you know what? Dads don’t understand that it’s patriarchal to have them walk you down the aisle; they just want to do that for their little girls. Moms don’t get that maybe you could not care less what they wear; they just want to look their best for your big day. Younger cousins don’t get that maybe you don’t want to throw the bouquet because it’s demeaning and you have too many awkward memories.

Corey: But shouldn’t we be critical of it if the bridal industry if it often promotes such negativity? Just letting an industry, and/or problematic traditions, overtake how we see our own weddings and our very selves just because that’s The Way It Is seems equally flawed! And we’re all “society,” so don’t we have something of an obligation to approach these types of events critically and think about we actually want, not what an industry is selling us?

Kate: Oh, totally. And that’s why I refused to diet for my wedding, or pay someone to do my makeup, or get some dress that made me look like a Marilyn Monroe mermaid. Maybe the best way is to do what Lucy did — to analyze the traditions we take for granted, decide what we like about them or don’t, and keep what we like. I love that both sets of parents, for example, walked both of them down the aisle! So sweet, and eliminates the patriarchy issue. I wish I’d thought of it! Balance.

Corey: I have to ask you, as someone who fairly recently planned her own wedding, is it as grueling and awful as Lucy makes it sound? And, after the fact, is it as magical and worth it?

Kate: Yes. It is that grueling. I can’t even. I had two great friends helping with my dress, the invitations turned out perfectly, my flowers were gorgeous, the bridesmaid dresses were perfect, and the food was on point. The wedding planner at the venue was so amazing, and I felt like our schedule allowed plenty of time for spending time with our friends.

But no matter what you do, something will always be wrong and someone will always criticize. Or little cousins will chop their fingers off. Or it will snow on your guests. Or your hairdresser will be having a Rough Day and you’ll briefly look like something out of a sci-fi movie. Or you’ll tell all of your friends not to make toasts and then all of your groom’s friends will anyway, leaving you standing there like an idiot. Or your dress won’t be right. Or your guests will simply decide to bring other people along without asking, or will refuse to RSVP until the week before, leaving you with a seating chart that is constantly in flux.

This makes me sound awful and bitter, and I know people for whom their wedding day was just the most perfect, amazing day of their whole lives. But if I had to do it again, I’d elope with about four friends and then just throw a party later.

Corey: Insofar as I think about my future wedding at all, that’s pretty much my plan! And Something New just made me more sure that a wedding-wedding really isn’t what I want, however nice it is to have everyone together.

 

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Entry filed under: Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Musings and Essays. Tags: , .

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