BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON
Written and Drawn by Dash Shaw
Published by Fantagraphics
After 40 years of marriage, David and Maggie Loony have decided to get a divorce. Baffled, hurt, and confused, their three grown children head home to the family beach house for one final family gathering. The eldest son, Dennis, is obsessed with determining why his parents have decided to call it quits, intrusively sticking himself into their emotional state at the cost of his own. Claire, the middle child, is surprisingly reasonable about the announcement focusing more on raising her daughter and respecting her parents’ feelings. And Peter, the youngest… well, no one seems to quite know what to do with Peter or what he feels. He’s always been a socially maladjusted outcast, and adulthood has only worsened that trend. Back together under one roof, old pains flare up, secrets get bandied about, and emotional torment is served daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
You aren’t going to have a more uncomfortable reading experience this year than BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON. The raw emotion that Shaw puts on the page, and the intrusive way he peels back the layers on his characters is striking and hurtful. You feel like you are living each gutwrenching moment with these people, and it does not feel good. Oh, no, it does not. But it isn’t meant to.
Instead, it’s meant to be disturbing and affecting, and goddamn does Shaw score on that point. Too many family sagas send the reader off on a comfortable cloud of easy answers and warm moments. Shaw’s story is about keeping the honesty built in to how people react to one another, especially those that are related. Watching Peter fumble through what is obviously his first real “adult” relationship is so extraordinarily disconcerting to read that I kept turning my head away from the book, hoping the pages would magically turn themselves so I didn’t have to read it.
I said you wouldn’t have a more uncomfortable reading experience this year than this book, but on the flip side of that, you also may not read a better graphic novel this year, period. None of what I have written above should be taken as discouragement; rather, these are the reasons to pick up this major work by a major talent. At 700+ pages, this is the very definition of what the word “novel” means as part of “graphic novel.” Recommended as highly as possible.