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It is very tempting when reading a
novel in the form of a confessional diary to speculate how much the book is
taken from real life. That temptation is compounded when one sees that the
main character as she is drawn bears a strong resemblance to pictures of the
author. But in the interviews included in Gloekner's own web site, she tends
to get impatient with the interviewers who succumb to this temptation, even
though at other points she admits that the novel does have some correspondence
to her own life. For example, like her main character Minnie, Gloeckner really
did know comic book artist Robert Crumb. She says that she strongly identified
with Minnie yet she insists that the main story is fictional. Given that
Minnie's central relationship in the novel is a secret affair with Monroe, her
mother's boyfriend, readers are probably especially likely to conclude that the
story must be autobiographical. It is such a sensitive and difficult topic
that it is hard to imagine someone making it the heart of their first novel if
it didn't come from some personal experience. What's more, this novel is so
personal and authentic that it feels like it must be based on reality. But of
course that could simply be the mark of Gloeckner's skill as a fiction writer,
and ultimately it isn't any of our business what happened to the author as a
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is
unusual because it combines text with graphics. There is much more text, but
the pages with the comic book art transform the feel of the book. A few
crucial episodes in Minnie's life get told in graphic novel form, and this
brings variety to the pace and authorial mode of the book. The text, being a
diary, is written in the first person, but of course the graphic parts are told
from a third person perspective. We get to see the people Minnie is talking
about, and the images bring her text alive.
The story is set between March 1976
and March 1977. Minnie is 15 and lives in San Francisco. Her stepfather is a
distant figure having been out of the family picture for years. Minnie has a
crush on Monroe, who is 35. They start getting into a sexual relationship, which
Minnie likes a great deal at first, but quickly she becomes much more
ambivalent about it. Minnie's friends are getting into trouble of their own
and her mother spends a lot of time getting high, so Minnie's behavior is not
that surprising, given the exploitation and deception in her relationship with Monroe.
As Gloeckner portrays Minnie, her moodiness and confusion make perfect sense.
What may be more shocking to readers is the fact that she both enjoys her
sexuality and power while at the same time she feels used and guilty that she
is betraying her mother and risking so much. She starts taking drugs and
hanging out with more dangerous characters and risking violence. She also
starts her own comic book art and gains confidence, so her maturing is complex
rather than simply a morality tale about a descent into degradation. Minnie's
family is strange because on the one hand her mother is neglectful and wasted,
but on the other hand she is well-connected and even ambitious for her
daughter. 1970's San Francisco is a powerful presence in the story, permissive
and free, yet enabling this abusive treatment of Minnie. These different
elements combine to a multi-dimensional story that paints a rich portrait of
Gloeckner's novel is one of the
most memorable accounts of a girl's troubled negotiation into adulthood. Highly
© 2005 Christian Perring. All
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island.
He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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