Review: Grace

Perzine, Holly English, 24 pgs,

Grace is an unflinching dive into the chronic pain of the author’s maternal grandmother and how it affected three generations of her family. Delicately rendered in black and white, it starts with the story of the ultimately harmful medical intervention of her grandfather’s depression. He was given a partial lobotomy, which sadly led to his suicide.

I expected the story to be about the family’s attempt to heal from that tragedy, a single mother with two children in the 1950s. Instead, it focuses on more of the medical system’s failures. Grace had a harmless, but bothersome twitch in her cheek. Her doctor attempted to surgically “redirect” the nerves in her face to correct it. The surgery traded a slight twitch for chronic pain that wore her grandmother down to a shadow of herself throughout her later life.

English’s drawings of her grandmother really struck me. A beautiful portrait of Grace in her youth lights up the cover, and as Grace struggles through her chronic pain, the representations of her deteriorate as she did. She becomes more of a crumpled abstraction than a person. “A leaking heart.”

When Grace finally leaves this plane, English’s linework becomes a peaceful realism again.

I remember my grandmother at the end of her life. She lived such a full and difficult life, and at some point she was just ready to go. “Time to die,” she would suddenly announce during visits. It was hard to hear, but I couldn’t blame her. I wonder why we try so hard to avoid ageing and dying. Why do we insist on prolonging someone’s life even if they are miserable? Their lives tend not to be pleasant at the end. Resources are a big reason for this, but society tends to treat our elders with indignity and even becomes bitter and resentful of the responsibility. (Christine Cooper