Site icon

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

This entry is part 43 of 56 in the series 2022 Reads

Mira Jacob is new to me, but when I searched on Libby for graphic novels at my local library, Good Talk came up and I figured I’d give it a shot. 

The book is a graphic novel, but the focus isn’t really the art. That’s not to disparage it: it’s just that this is a cut-and-paste comic, with specific drawings of the characters repeated many times throughout, something familiar from early webcomics. This is fine, though there were a few places where apparent bystanders got recycled into scenes later on, and I found myself wondering, “Wait, is that the same guy, or just another stranger?” Still, overall, there’s enough variety and the repetitions even take on a certain significant: we can quickly identify young Mira, older Mira, contemporary Mira, and of course the different age-variants of other characters in the story. Most of the time, the cut and paste drawings appear over photos. 

But as I say, the focus is the conversations. They span the author’s childhood as an Indian-American (as in, an American of South Asian heritage), and even further back into her parents’ youth, all the way to her conversations with her husband and son in 2019. That also gives you some idea of some of the terrain the conversations cover: Jacob’s struggle to figure out who she was—as a teenager, as an Indian-American, as a very visible minority in New Mexico during her youth, as an adult woman making her way in the world, as a writer, as a wife and mother and daughter-in-law. But it’s also about how those struggles are shared: how—like so many of us—her parents were less than helpful in some ways, about her own efforts to be helpful to her son in his own struggle, and about the tensions and challenges that arise when one partner in a marriage faces that struggle while the other doesn’t, not quite. (In those moments, Jacob makes clear, friends can be crucial in helping us keep our cognitive balance.) And, like the above, there’s also a lot of the other stuff that parents go through with kids: the fascinations, the shaky grasp of how jokes work, the odd beliefs kids develop, the words they seem to pick up from who knows where?

But there’s also the context. That context starts out as a mostly-white neighborhood in New Mexico; it progresses through 9-11 and the (wild-eyed, maddened) post-9-11 era, and the horrors of the George W. Bush presidency; the hope (and eventual frustration) of the Obama Presidency; the rising sense of worry as Trump ran for President, and the pain and horror of seeing him win, of seeing relatives—especially her in-laws—support him and pretend Trump wasn’t a racist, sexist, awful pig. And, all through it, Mira Jacob’s conversations with her son, asking the simple, blunt, and obvious questions that one can imagine would be asked by a young, brown-skinned boy in America under Trump. Of course, every parent struggles to figure out how to speak to their kids about difficult things, and every parent is eventually blindsided by a questions their kids ask. It’s at times painful, but also honest and sometimes even moving to see Mira Grant’s fumbling struggle to figure out how to talk to her son honestly without overwhelming him with her own horrified sense of what a dumpster fire the country had become all of a sudden. Or, how the dumpster fire had heated up, really, because Jacob makes it clear that the problems were not exactly new, so much as they were newly prominent and newly impossible to ignore.

Well… impossible to ignore except for older white people, such as (but far from only) Jacob’s in-laws. I’ve seen this tension play out in a lot of families: the in-laws supporting bigoted politicians, and their loved ones left to deal with the cognitive dissonance of impossible-to-reconcile positions: I love you as a part of my family and I am eagerly and devotedly supporting and voting for someone who is stirring up hate against people like you. Both my own personal experience of this, and the many times I’ve seen friends go through this in their marriages, have made this an ever-more familiar story, especially in the years since Trump took office and the polarization went into overdrive. 

Above, I mentioned the “other stuff that parents go through,” but… well, all of this also affects that. The scene where Jacob’s son picks up a word from who knows where, it’s the last word of Trump’s infamous brag about how he would “grab women by the…” well, you know. Context poison things.  

Several friends recently have commented that they feel like everything is accelerating, a remark that in one case was occasioned by the recent victory in Italy of an essentially fascist party (or, okay, far-right, some insist—I think the difference is academic), by a recent Trump rally, and by… well, everything. It makes me think back to how the parents talk—and then don’t talk—about the rising catastrophe in Jack Womack’s astonishing novel Random Acts of Senseless Violence (which I discussed here), and how quickly things can just completely collapse, and how people who live through (or in the aftermath of) a catastrophe are just basically different in some way: less innocent, less shielded from the dark truth that some people have always lived with. This is something I found is similarly astonishing in its depiction in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (which I read last year, and apparently forgot to include in my Tweet listing of books read).

How do we talk to our kids about it? How do we navigate our own feelings while talking to them about it? It’s a question I think more and more of us will be forced to consider over the coming years, especially those of us who maybe didn’t feel the need to do so previously.

Series Navigation<< <em>The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems</em> by Michael Ondaatje<em>The Sword of Samurai Cat</em> by Mark E. Rogers >>
Exit mobile version