An editor asked me to write a couple paragraphs about "the book that changed my life" for an upcoming online compilation. Here's what I came up with:
Good-bye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson
It's a smallish, black-and-white graphic novel about the turtle Chunky Rice who leaves his girlfriend, a mouse named Dandle, to make it big in the wide, wondrous world. It sounds like the premise for a children's book, and maybe it is, but it transcends age and just speaks to the crossroads you encounter throughout life, as you make crucial decisions that will effect your destiny.
The emotion on the page is palpable, from the simplistic illustrations that resemble kids' doodles to the flowery, cursive-style lettering reminiscent of notes passed in junior high. The little book thumps with a pulsing heartbeat, and I connected to it so strongly that I shiver as I type this.
"You're like a little flower that's outgrown its pot and needs to be transplanted in order to keep growing," says Dandel, so understanding even as she's crushed. He asks her to run away with him, but Dandel refuses, insisting she knows this is where she belongs and she wants Chunky to find a place that feels the same way.
I read the book when I was in a situation much like Chunky's. I was graduating from college, was dating a girl who was a year behind me at school and had a post-grad internship at the San Francisco Chronicle beckoning. At the time I was half-convinced I had outgrown my Tucson flower pot and needed to see new horizons. The book seemed to be a sign from above that I should follow Chunky's example and go off. But I didn't. I couldn't bring myself to leave my girlfriend, who became my wife. Nor could I abandon my hometown, even though I had no job prospects here at the time. Now that I look back I'm not so sure I went against the message of the "Good-bye Chunky Rice," which could just as easily be read as a lament against leaving for the sake of leaving by someone who made a choice that still hurt him as he bled his thoughts to pen and paper.