Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos
Lucy Knisley (artist/writer)
Lucy Knisley’s latest memoir, Kid Gloves, narrates her experiences with pregnancy, and highlights historical and medical information about pregnancy and how we treat it in the western world.
It’s good. I laughed aloud and was made to cry; and that’s what one wants from a memoir, I believe. However, Knisley’s experiences are by no means universal, and I found myself constantly comparing her unique experiences to my own pregnancy. When they did coincide, I felt a rush of fellow feeling, and showed my spouse specific panels in which Knisley was doing things that we both remembered me doing when I had been pregnant.
But her experiences usually did not coincide with mine, and I did some shrugging and sympathetic brow furrowing, and except for extremely dramatic parts, was not particularly gripped by the parts that didn’t apply to me.
Knisley opens the book with the framing of her current experience: her baby is four weeks old and she’s finishing the book. She then goes back to age 16, to detail her history with birth control, and then brings readers through her experience of having a miscarriage, getting pregnant again, and the full term of her pregnancy. Throughout, she punctuates her own personal narrative with informative page spreads about how pregnancy has been approached medically throughout history.
Her depiction of the birth and attending alarming complications is very affecting. Her drawing style, with its clean rounded lines and generally flat, soft color is distinctive, and when she deviates from that it is jarring in a way perfectly appropriate to that moment of the narrative. That jarring deviation is also one of the parts that highlights the experiences of her husband, John. Throughout the narrative she is extremely compassionate when recounting his anxieties during her pregnancy, and here, when we see that something has gone scarily wrong, it is from his point of view, and it is Knisley’s own health on the line rather than any of his anxieties about the baby come to fruition. It’s terrifying, and her loving depiction of John throughout helps readers empathize with his sudden fears for his wife.
Since my experience of reading this memoir was so driven by comparison to my own memories of pregnancy, I consulted with WWAC’s Alenka Figa about her different reading experiences since I knew she had also enjoyed the book. Like me, Alenka has been reading Knisley’s work for a long time, and she said that part of what made her invested in Kid Gloves was her own current investment in Knisley’s life. She said, “I felt like I got a lot out of Kid Gloves.” In addition to appreciating the informational bits about medical practices, Alenka also noted “I think too, just being more understanding and empathetic toward pregnant women is important,” and that this book fosters that kind of community where pregnant women are seen as regular people rather than “baby vessels.”
I will say for Knisley that she is excellent at not pretending her experiences are universal. I never felt as though she was instructing me or any reader to feel one way or do one thing. I find, however, that I prefer Kate Beaton’s pregnancy journal comic tweets. Those ones very often move me to laughter or tears whether or not I personally had the same experiences when pregnant. Ideally, there would be a glut! Pregnancy comics by talented creators everywhere! That’s the future liberals want.
Knisley is also excellent at appreciating her support network. Her husband, family, friends, and industry colleagues all appear in the story and the acknowledgements as strong, diverse, trusted relationships. Kid Gloves winds up by announcing that Lucy Knisely’s next memoir will most likely be about parenting, since that’s what’s coming next for her—I look forward to seeing how these family, friend and colleague networks evolve to support this next phase of her life.