Not long ago, I was cruising through graphic novel reviews trying to find some goodies for our library collection when I stumbled across Glamour contributing editor Laurie Sandell’s The Impostor’s Daughter. The review hyped it up enough that I not only added it to my buy-list, I had it rushed and placed immediately on hold for me. Within three days, I had it in my hands, and twenty-four hours later, I was finished with it. I haven’t found a graphic novel to really rock me in such a long time I’d almost forgotten how it feels… until now.
The book begins with quite an intriguing bit… a young naive looking brunette speaks of a father who, whenever away from the house, even if only for a day, has the mail held at the post office. When she one time intercepts the mail, it is all addressed to a name she doesn’t recognize. Similarly, telephone callers always ask for names she doesn’t recognize, and when she tells them there is no one at the house by that name, her father oddly gets angry and says the calls are for him. It is immediately clear that the reader is in for quite a story. In fact, seeing the first few pages’ words and illustrations are what drew me to having it rushed in the first place.
Laurie’s father seems so heroic and mysterious in the beginning of the book, when she’s an adolescent. A professor at a community college, full of prestige and holding a law degree from NYU, a former green beret who’s had brushes with many important, famous people… what’s not to admire about her Argentine father and his larger-than-life existence? She adores him and draws cartoons of him in a variety of humorous situations; oddly enough, her caricatures always depict him with an enormous head. Lucky for young Laurie, her father seems to favor her over her two younger sisters and humors her with his stories of wild war adventures. She works hard to impress him and when she disappoints him, which is rare, the world seems as though it might end.
As she grows older and becomes a teenager, however, she suddenly seems to become the very thing that angers him. Illustrations of him throwing things at her and yelling obscenities help the reader see the degree to which the tables have turned. No longer working as a professor, or at all, he becomes more and more of a recluse. Upon entering adulthood, Laurie begins learning that her father may not have been what or who he said he was. She learns of fraud he’s committed involving her, and as she investigates his lies they seem to deepen. When she questions the rest of her immediate family their responses aren’t what she would want; denial, hurt, and down-right avoidance meet her head-on.
Author Laurie Sandell tells of her attempts to discover the truth about her father and the life he claimed to lead. As her career begins to take off her exploration of her father’s true life deepens… as does her unintended inquiry into her own life. Laurie deals with her abuse of alcohol and Ambien and struggles with her own relationships with men, which she feels have been damaged because of the relationship with her father.
Sandell illustrates the book and tells her story comic book or graphic novel (though this doesn’t really qualify as a novel, as it is a true story) style. The pages are divided into frames in which she illustrates her words as she tells them, as if it were a journal. She may write a few sentences in a frame and illustrate them to depict what she writes about. She does include ‘speech bubbles’ and shows interaction between characters, but the majority of the written story is in the descriptions above many of the frames. Her illustrations are colored generously, keeping the reader’s eyes glued to the page and jumping from frame to frame, turning from page to page. Characters are easy to differentiate from one another; in fact, her Sgt. Pepper-esque two-page spread helped to etch her illustrating ability into my memory. In this spread, she shows some of her interviewees and it is very fun to guess who they are by her illustration of them and check the list at the bottom. Her pictures capture not only the events themselves but also the emotion within, yet the colorful quality and clear images seem to have an almost innocent, child-like feeling to them. I will say that I noticed that in almost every depiction of herself, Sandell is wearing blue bottoms and an orange top, or some variation of the type of clothing… but almost always that color combination.
In The Impostor’s Daughter, Laurie Sandell seems to have taken a cue (a rather large and appreciated cue) from author Allison Bechdel, imitating Bechdel’s own autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home: a Family Traficomic. Bechdel also speaks of her confusing relationship with her father, and also writes her story as if it were a journal with illustrations. Both authors are strong females, and I enjoy reading a graphic story written by a female and written and illustrated in this style.
Laurie Sandell packs emotion, intrigue, and talented words and graphics into this book; as I mentioned above, it grabbed me and didn’t let me go (interrupting the other book I was reading, in fact) until I was finished with it. While I really have nothing in common with her or her story, I felt I could relate to it and put myself into every position she described. Her story is amazingly interesting (just as much so as her father’s stories) and the slightly ambiguous ending left me thoughtful. I highly recommend this book, and am very happy to have rushed to add it to our library collection.