Bottomless Belly Button Paperback – Jun 3 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Shaw's stunningly conceived and executed comic opus captures one moment of change in a family. Maggie and David Loony have called their three adult children to their childhood home to announce that, after 40 years of marriage, they're getting a divorce. Dennis, the eldest, desperately searches for an answer to why. He believes that if he just finds the right old letters, he'll understand what's happening to his parents, only to find that his answers say a lot more about his own marriage and infant son. Claire, the middle child, has been through her own divorce and is now struggling to raise a teen daughter by herself. The youngest, Peter, who has always felt like a changeling in his family and is drawn with a frog's head, is going through a delayed coming-of-age. Shaw's style deftly combines cartoon drawings with slavish attention to detail. The result feels reminiscent of a photo album, one person's quest to remember everything from the floor plans of the vacation home to the texture of the sand on the lake beach. Masterfully using the comics medium to juggle all the different characters, weaving their stories together seamlessly, Shaw allows the Loonys' emotions to play out naturally without forced resolutions, leaving a wistful hopefulness that feels just as conflicted and confusing as every family is. (June)
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Top Customer Reviews
The story is about a family gathering at the grandparent's house along the beach. While having the kids there (Dennis, Claire and Peter) along with the grandkids they announce that after decades of marriage they are getting a divorce. The book sprouts into mostly three ways following each of the kids lives and how they take the news. While partially flashbacks and current family chatter you see how everyone has their own way of dealing and caring.
For being such a long book and was surprisingly not that long of a read. Dash's strength is in his writing and although he did a great job with this book I couldn't help but feel that he could be doing better making films. This would make a great indie film.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is true that the book doesn't conclude with a resolution that neatly unties the knot. Instead, it does something much better, which is to finish mysteriously, emotionally, realistically, and poignantly. All this should suggest that if you like stock stories, then caveat emptor. If you like more literary fare, then you'll be right at home.
Shaw makes a somewhat amusing plea to the reader to rest between the three parts of the book. I suppose if I'd foisted a 700 page book on potential readers I'd be a little worried too. But let's be realistic for a moment: It's a graphic novel! It still a very quick read.
Two minor criticisms: I was fine with the basic illustrations--the graphic part of the book doesn't reach nor attempt to reach the heights of some others in the genre. But I didn't like how Shaw adds words to describe non-dialogue physical features; for example, such as writing for sound effects, "shrug" on a shoulder or "grip" on a hand gripping something or writing "Purples" and "Pinks" so we know what color the sky is. An even more awkward example is when Dennis is cooling down after a hot run, and he places his head in front of a fan. On his forehead it says, "Cool air against the sweat on your forehead." Very clumsy. The other criticism: He names the family the Loonies. Really cute. Mercifully, this is mentioned only two or three times.
Recommended if you like: Adrian Tomine; David B.; Jason; Chris Ware; Charles Burns; Daniel Clowes; Rutu Modan; Allison Bechdel; Craig Thompson; or Yoshihiro Tatsumi.
Dash Shaw's witty style of writing and illustrating help make the characters feel uniquely genuine, and each page is filled with parts of real life the reader can relate to no matter their walk of life. Even if you're not that into graphic novels (I know I wasn't) this book is still a great read. You can tell in the two years Shaw spent drawing this novel, he poured part of himself into it.
Sometimes, the story seems so real that, although the reader is in a trance while 'living' in this beach house, the plot seems to get a bit dull--many pages are devoted to everyday tasks that seem inferred to happen anyway. However, I could never imagine a reader putting down this book as a result of that; simply because you never want to leave the family. Another thing to consider is that the point of this book isn't to be gimmicky and dramatize emotional events, it's just to showcase the Loony's story. What I think I liked best about it is that I didn't feel like I was reading a comic book like a lot of other graphic novels are. It felt like a fiction book made out of pictures to me.
When this book ends it is nearly impossible to keep from tearing up in the last few pages. I started to feel what the characters felt, which never really leaves you--this is a book you will want to read more than once.
"Bottomless Belly Button" should get far more praise and acknowledgement and is incredibly looked over. Picking up this book because it caught my eye in the Graphic Novels section of the library has to be one of the best decisions I've made in a while.
I feel torn about Bottomless Belly Button, Dash Shaw's monstrous (720 pp.) magnum opus. On the one hand, it's one of those graphic novels that isn't actually "about" anything. The characters, in general, don't change, just kind of butt up against one another like buoys tied to a pier in rough water, and the situation flows around them. Think of it as a mumblecore graphic novel, you know? And those tend to drive me bats. (God save me from ever having to read anything else Craig Thompson writes. Ever.) But on the other hand... Dash Shaw is amazing. Pure-D gold. I'm not sure anyone else could have taken this scenario and these characters, put this style of writing to them, and made it work anywhere close to as well as Shaw does here. So I'm torn on how to review this, but I'm leaning more towards the "brilliant" side of things.
Plot: the Loony family have gathered at the beach house after a stunning announcement: mom and dad (Maggie and David) are getting divorced after forty years. The news understandably shakes their three kids, and the extended families of each. The oldest of the three, Dennis, is a classic type A personality, with a loving, if stressed wife, Aki, and a newborn son. Dennis treats the split as a mystery; he wants to know why it's happening, and Maggie and David are either not being forthcoming, or simply don't know the answer themselves, so Dennis digs deeper and deeper into the accumulated detritus of forty years of crap in the basement to try and find an answer. The middle child, Claire, is divorced and raising a teenaged daughter (Jill) by herself. She acknowledges the split, but having a great deal more firsthand experience with divorce, takes it in stride and spends more time with Aki reminiscing about her own childhood days, using the vacation as a halfhearted attempt to find herself and an even more halfhearted (quarterhearted?) attempt to bond with Jill. Peter is the youngest son, the polar opposite of Dennis in every way. Shy, unassuming, socially unskilled. (Shaw draws him, in fact, as a frog; he is the only anthropomorphic character in the book.)
While that's the basics, the book starts out attempting to give everyone equal time, but quickly starts focusing on Jill and Peter. Peter, after getting dating advice from Jill (despite Jill being half Peter's age, this doesn't feel at all out of the ordinary; Peter is that socially inept), meets a camp counselor who lives a couple of houses down the beach, and hesitantly embarks on his first love affair, while Jill, at first unable to let go of her relationships with school friends in the city, soon finds herself forced to do so through circumstances and needing to find a way to connect with a family that, seemingly, has no connections.
It all sounds very Kramer vs. Kramer with a bigger family when I describe it like that, but as I was reading it, my mind kept bringing me back to Tracy Letts' August: Osage County instead. Not necessarily because of the family-secrets angle, though there are a few uncovered here, but because of the characters' reactions to the existence of those family secrets, and how they all play out. Every once in a while, Shaw throws in something that's simple, and yet somehow jaw-dropping. The biggest surprise in the book lasts all of a single frame (while at least one review has revealed it, I won't), and it's exactly the kind of thing that separates the kind of books that try this I normally despise and Bottomless Belly Button. Portions of it are still frustrating, especially the denouement, but it's still an incredible book, and one that deserves your time and attention. ****