Author: Elizabeth Trembley
Publish Date: 2022
Publisher: Street Noise
Where to buy: https://bookshop.org/p/books/look-again-elizabeth-a-trembley/18125743?ean=9781951491185
Author website: https://elizabethtrembley.com
review by Tenli Yavneh
Elizabeth Trembley’s excellent and moving graphic memoir Look Again: A Memoir delves into the complex issue of traumatic memory . The lens is the author’s lived experience of trauma and the evolution of her understanding of that experience over years of her life. To that end, the book begins with a raw depiction of the initial trauma itself: In the fall of 1996, Trembley was out walking her dogs in the woods early in the morning, and discovered a dead body hanging from a tree next to the trail. The moment is vividly depicted: on one page, the two dogs are sniffing peacefully along the ground. On the facing page that same picture is ripped in half, its jagged edges signifying the rupture of her life in that moment. The discovery literally tears her world in two: before and after.
The above example demonstrates how skillfully Trembley uses the medium of graphic memoir to explore the way that traumatic experiences have their own narrative momentum. Skillfully building suspense as she goes, Trembley retells the story in six successive “Variations,” each adding missing elements from her scattered memory as she develops a greater understanding for, and tolerance of, the experience. The process takes the author many years, and the book reflects the non linear nature of that process by moving forward and back in time as she finds more pieces to add to the puzzle.
In her Author’s Note, Trembley notes that “traumatic memory shape-shifts.” She uses a variety of visual and narrative styles to tell her story, giving the reader a strong sense of how many different ways she needs to approach and reapproach her memories as she seeks a greater understanding of what she went through that morning. As she says, “memory tells its own story.”
One of my favorite aspects of Look Again is the vivid portrayal of Trembley’s internal voices, each of which expresses different aspects of her personality: the anxious, pessimistic Dragon, sometime prophet of doom; the stoic and rational Hawk whose flat profile evokes Egyptian hieroglyphics; and the reactive Danger Pickle, who sees peril in everything. These characters personify the different lenses through which she interprets her experiences. They also demonstrate a healthy ability to externalize negative thought patterns that are part of her coping style, and thereby putting them in perspective. Danger Pickle deserves his own comic strip.
Trembley is a writer and a teacher, not a mental health professional, but she has clearly done her homework. The book contains a terrific bibliography that includes writings on trauma from a variety of professional and lay perspectives, as well as works on memoir, writing, and the role of graphic writing in addressing trauma. Look Again would be a worthy addition to the syllabus of a graduate psychology course, but it’s also very accessible and will appeal to anyone who is interested in a beautifully written, relatable, and compelling story about recovery.
Tenli Yavneh, PsyD, is a retired Clinical Psychologist specializing in traumatic loss, crisis intervention, and psychiatric emergency She also draws comics, mostly memoir and/or mental health related. She lives in Northern California.
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