Reading Matters

Time, place, memory a brilliant swirl

Let’s say I’m standing in my dining room. Out the window I see green grass, and beyond, the rain-slick street.

As I look, I’m thinking of the woman who lived in the house before me. I’m remembering something she told me years ago. How she stood at this same window one icy January and watched a WWII soldier come slip-sliding down the street toward her house, where a warm, bountiful meal awaited.

So when I look out this window, I’m often seeing two scenes: the present one, and the one of the soldier slipping on the ice.

I tell you this because of my recent encounter with a late 2015 graphic novel, “Here,” by New Yorker artist Richard McGuire. The book belonged to someone else, and I held it briefly, slowly turning the pages. But its uncanny brilliance fired my imagination. It’s a book about space and time and memory, and how the three are in constant swirl and play, memory often making a fool of time, and space a constantly changing stage.

It’s also about family – perhaps the artist’s – and about birth and death and loss.

McGuire builds the book in interlocking panels, by year, collapsing time and space to tell the story of a corner of a room – its inhabitants and the land on which it’s built – all between the distant B.C. past and the A.D. future. In the same frame, he uses insets to show earlier and later events that occur in that one corner.

Page after page, the photograph and its dates change. In one scene, from this same corner, we see a dispirited Christmas tree (1953), an open casket (1916), a home invasion (1997) and the moment when floodwaters rush the window sill (2111).

On another, it’s 1960. But the insets show a 1620 Indian striding with bow and arrow; a 1907 construction worker hoisting lumber for the house; and a 1968 character who says, “Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.”

I think of my own house, where I’ve lived for 32 years, and how one October evening in 1985, my husband, my parents and my two sons all gathered in the dining room to celebrate my father’s birthday. Those parents are gone, but the room, minus the flowered wallpaper, remains.

In “Here,” at a 1971 house party, a character remarks: “There was a moment there when we were all together in the same room. It was just for a moment. I don’t think anyone even noticed.”

Isn’t that always the way.