GRAPHIC NOVELS

Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in Twelve Steps

Pantheon. Oct. 2019. 416p. ISBN 9780375425400. $26.95. Rated: Mature. MEMOIR
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Heatley (My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down) explores four decades of his life in what may well be one of the most unflinchingly honest and emotionally raw memoirs ever written. As a child, Heatley’s volatile and sexually inappropriate father and overachieving mother are too wrapped up in their own struggles to notice his growing anxiety and inability to form healthy relationships. His young adulthood, and extending into his marriage to supportive wife, Rebecca, as well as fatherhood, is marred by compulsive sexual behavior, money trouble, bitter resentment toward nearly everyone in his life, and shame at his inability to get his act together. Initial encounters with recovery groups leave him cold, but his need for structure and a sense of community eventually leads him into a tumultuous and possibly unhealthy dependence upon 12-step support groups for those struggling with alcohol, debt, overeating, and sex and love addiction.
VERDICT Whether the painful, incredibly personal details Heatley shares are an expression of uncommon bravery or narcissism is debatable, but readers will find themselves moved by this stunning memoir, and perhaps even grateful for the author’s refusal to shy away from depicting the complexity of his ongoing development as an artist and a human being.

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