A Boy’s Own Story, by Edmund White, is widely regarded as a classic work both as a coming-of-age novel and as a landmark piece in gay literature. It tells the autobiographical story of an unnamed narrator growing up gay in the midwest in the fifties while dealing with the weight of the divorce of his parents. Finding solace in works of art, what follows is a character’s journey fumbling away through life and early sexual encounters, then into adulthood. This new graphic novel adaptation, written by Brian Alessandro and Michael Carroll, with illustrations by Igor Karash, is a classic in its own right.
One of the immediate things of notice in this graphic novel is the writing style. It’s evocative and deliberately invoking Proust as a nod to the narrator’s favorite author. The smell of a Parisian cab driver’s cigar starts the story, sending him back into memories of the past. The smell of his father’s cigars. A life that once was and the reminisce of former days.
Similarly, the artwork featured here is glorious. The watercolors evoke the impressionists that the narrator loves to go and see with his mother. With impressionism being the perfect vehicle for a book based on memories. There are images that are sometimes hazy, sometimes vivid. The narrator often appears as a background character in these memories, wandering through to comment on the actions of his past as they become reflected in his present.
The story is episodic, as memories are, jumping from past to present. First, the narrator observes himself as a young teen, vacationing at his father’s lakeside cottage and taking his first fumbling sexual experiences with the son of family friends.
It then looks at how his father and he could only bond over their shared love of classical music. How his early experiences at boarding school shaped his affairs and desires into adulthood. Especially, in regards to how his closeted youth lead him to a life in New York to be part of the Stonewall riots.
Like memories, the vignettes can meander, but what seem like false starts often lead to ripples in the future. The boys the narrator crushes on in the past affect his partners in the present, which in turn are affected by the memories of his father.
Part wistful, part rueful, A Boy’s Own Story is a beautifully told tale. The prose and paintings work together to create a vivid impression of a young man, however hazy the particulars of memory can be.