The Impostor’s Daughter

The Impostor’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell sparkled in the stack of recent books with all the promise and allure that the words “Graphic Memoir” can muster. My mind immediately skipped all the way back to Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home, another East-Coast woman scripted graphic novel about a girl and her father.

I’m not sure whether memoir or autobiography fit comfortably in comic book form, unless the subject is at least a few decades old or told with lots of savvy and finesse. It’s hard to marry reality with the printed and doodled upon page – for me, graphic novels and comic books allows mirror reality in a fictional way. Comic book memoirs seem to do the opposite: fictionalize reality. Also, your story better be visually interesting if you bring in visuals. Otherwise, you’ve lost half the battle.

As a cartoonist, Sandell is fine. I certainly wouldn’t salivate for more based on the art alone. It was a wise choice to package the book as they did – hard bound with colored pages. Faced with 100 pages of black and white panels (and very little visual intrigue), it would have been over before it even started.

People who have never given two sniffs at comic books as an artistic storytelling platform, will be BLOWN AWAY that they could read a graphic novel with some kind of merit. As if Sandell is the first person to ever conceive of a memoir set in this medium. Actually, it seems more like this was the gimmick in which to finally package and distribute the story. It doesn’t help that it’s a creepy nod to the way she bonded with her father in their damaged relationship.

What exists in The Impostor’s Daughter is not well-fleshed out, which is odd because it’s the author’s own life and this is her tell-all. She clearly has many things she wants to convey, but outside of herself, the other characters, her mother and sisters are dim and distant. Even her father (especially him, his motivations are incredibly vague).  Laurie as a narrator is even quite casual at times – especially after she leaves for College and then on her world travels.

The book seems to lose it’s momentum when the story is about her, and only gain it back when she’s living again in the world of her father. In a way, her story is shaped as a direct mirror of that relationship. Even when she should be living and enjoying her life to the fullest (traveling the world, starting her career), and recounting those trials to bring us closer to HER…it’s glossed over and we’re back to her Dad.

It’s clear that this book was not cathartic for her. I didn’t get any sense of closure…and I’m not sure she’s had time to really absorb what she’s learned and turn those lessons into anything of value. She rushed to get this project done and put it out on the shelves as some weird form of therapy but seems to miss the point of the exercise entirely. That’s what would make for more interesting reading, and a better end cap to her fiction of reality.

I do get tired of the “my parents ruined me for life” diatribe. At least she recognizes that Ashley Judd had a tougher childhood than she did. And the celebrity name-dropping did get a bit old after a while. Especially the Sgt. Pepper two page spread. We get it – you have a nice career.

Honestly – this piece reeks of upper-class bullshit. Oh no – my dad ruined my credit (yet I still graduate from college with a degree, travel the world for a year, and end up with a high paying career). Oh no – my father lied to me for several years (so I will amass a slew of details about his illegal activities yet do NOTHING with that information).

The problem – is that there was never really a problem to begin with. Sure, her Dad was a compulsive liar and stole shamelessly from people around him. But there were no consequences for his actions, and if those ramifications did happen – it wasn’t important enough for Sandell to mention or focus her story on.

There were few consequences for the author – save some damaged credit in her early twenties and some trust/commitment issues (who doesn’t have those?). Her long distance relationship ended – because for the most part long distance relationships END unless one or the other party is willing to make a sacrifice of distance. I wasn’t buying that it had much to do with her daddy-issues.

Her Ambien and alcohol addiction don’t enter the scene until much later in life, probably when the stress of writing for a fashion magazine and living in NYC finally got to her. Prescription drug addictions are fodder for upper-class folks who can afford a luxurious legal addiction. Not shedding too many tears for that one.

In fact – she makes Ambien sound positively appealing, with the full night’s sleep AND kinky sex tossed in there for good measure. Where do I sign up?

I found my sympathy and alliances drifting, strangely, towards her mother and sisters by the end of the book – they all seemed to suffer the same indignities (worse, as they were not the favorites), and survived well enough NOT to write a memoir. Clearly they are stable individuals with families of their own. Which casts some doubts on how much of Sandell’s personal problems are attributed to her “terrible” home life.

Now – if Sandell ever creates a graphic novel about her adventures in Asia – I would probably read that. Her writing style is intimate but cool at the same time, like a successful friend who gossips their most valued secrets to you over a cup of coffee – not leaving long enough pauses for you to get a word in edge-wise.

We, the readers, might as well be wall-paper, because it’s all about her and her dad anyways.

Instead – pick up Maus, Persepolis, Blankets or most anything by Harvey Pekar. They are visually engaging AND insightful.


Interview with Laurie Sandell


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About tinyheroes

Mindy Crouchley is a 33 year old woman with a degree in English and Technical Writing from Portland State University. She has accumulated three+ years experience in the Marketing and Communications field - with an emphasis on creating digital media content. She has been reading comic books since she was 10 years old. She currently lives in outer southeast Portland with her spouse Dan Robertson, her baby girl, and their dog - Jabba the pug. She spends her free time devouring books, crafting cosplay, video gaming, attending comic cons, writing stories/screenplays, attending book to film adaptation club meetings, volunteering, and watching copious amounts of TV and movies.

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