Rebecca Kraatz, Snaps

Distracting irrelevancy: Rebecca Kraatz' Snaps was blurbed to the skies by "Rich Terfry (Buck 65)." I really enjoyed it as well, so I raise this not to disagree with Mr. 65, but simply to remark that I wish he was confident enough -- or that Kraatz' publisher was confident enough -- simply to let his preferred moniker stand.

Because throughout the rest of this graphic novel, there's no evidence of marketing's influence, and that's a very good thing. There's no easy way to market Snaps widely, and I haven't seen a review anywhere that quite works for me, either; I think that Jonathan Ore gets it, mostly, but his review kind of peters out at the end.

Not that I'd ever do that. Heaven forfend, as they (never) say.

The backstory is that some years ago, Rebecca Kraatz bought an old photo album from the 1940s from a garage sale in Victoria, BC. She didn't know anyone pictured in it, and there weren't names or other identifying information that'd help her understand the relations between the images. And yet, and yet, she found herself going back again and again to the album, seeing the same person on different pages, seeing different combinations of people, seeing some people only appearing once. This novel, Snaps, represents an imaginative version of this recursive work: Kraatz developed a whole series of short tales about the people, some of the stories isolated and others embedded within a multi-story narrative.

Some of the stories, especially the brief ones, will grab on to you: the unwell man unable to enlist, mocked for weakness he can't help; the girlfriend abandoned for war; failures of one kind or another. I'm a little puzzled about my response to the 1940s aspect of it, though. As the above tweet suggests (though he wasn't talking about Snaps at all), there's a strong cultural rupture between the 1940s and now. The 1940s were another world, seriously, not just a world without colours but a world entirely remote from the Glorious 21st Century (praise be, etc.). Well, they weren't, but they feel like they were, and so I worry that even though I feel fairly engaged with this book, I feel like it's driven partly by an empty nostalgia, or maybe even a toxic nostalgia. None of these characters or their lives are relevant to our own choices, simply because of the remoteness.

It's like the photo album Kraatz found, right? We appreciate and admire the aesthetics of classic black-and-white photography, especially amateur photography of the folksy, schmaltzy, and corny schools, but it feels weird to look at such albums even of our own extended families. When it's someone else's family, or maybe even a book of people you're unable to identify, well, it takes a special frame of mind to do something with that.

But to be clear, Kraatz did something special with her album, and this book is well worth your time reading it. The more time you spend with the book, the more it pays you back, too, so you might be best off trying to mimic with Snaps Kraatz' experience with her found album. It didn't work for me to read slowly the first time through, so I sped up and found it genuinely immersive at the faster speed. Once the fast first read was done, I found it really appealing to work back and forth through the book for a surprisingly long time, dipping into it at random points and finding echos and repetitions that I hadn't noticed.

I still don't know that I've quite figured out how I feel about the intersections between nostalgia and aesthetics, politics and remoteness, but when was the last time I was genuinely comfortable with my thoughts about anything?

Also: she hasn't updated her blog in a while, but it does link to an April video of her discussing the novel at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Some very good stuff there.


Popular Posts