Mother, Come Home is one of the most disturbing and emotionally devastating graphic novels I’ve read in a long while. In fact, ever. This novel revolves around a father and son, the narrator Thomas, struggling to regain their footing after Thomas’s mother dies. His father, lost in a fog of grief and denial, does his best to stick to routine. Unable to escape the mounting evidence that his wife will not return, however, he soon fails to keep up with daily life and his own son’s existence. Thomas, determined to keep order, takes over the house, covers for his father’s absences, and clings to everyday tasks, giving them the weighty significance of keeping his mother assured that their life will continue as she would have wanted. The burden on a ten-year-old boy taking care of his emotionally lost father is never melodramatically presented but instead presses in slowly. Thomas is slowly sapped of the feeling he is doing any good until only the routine is left. When his uncle and aunt intrude upon their bleak home, insisting Thomas’s father enter an asylum and Thomas come to live with them, both father and son are broken out of habit but not of loss. This outwardly seeming saving grace instead pushes Thomas into a world too forcefully cheerful and determined to make him normal. Thomas cannot begin again until he sees his father one last time, leading to a heartbreaking but necessary conclusion that lets them finally express their grief, though the return to life will not be possible for them both. The palette of the art is muted but rich, and the style suits the melancholy air of the unfolding tension, full of details while the excellent use of panels and layout push the story forward. The sensory details of Thomas’s lion mask, a treasured gift from his mother, to the feel of the corduroy of his father’s jacket make the story palpable and painful. The themes, of what it means to let go, to give mercy, and to live with such decisions, are eloquently addressed in the silences, when such questions seem to matter the most. This is not for all teens, given the hopeless atmosphere, but for many the reflection of loss, guilt, and family loyalty is true and resonant.
Mother, Come Home
Fantagraphics, 2009 (new edition)