Charlie Rizzo has spent his life thinking his father was blinded in a hunting accident as a child. Not that it has stopped his dad from living his life or enjoying one of his greatest hobbies — studying poetic masterpieces of world literature. It’s an unusual hobby to have in their 1960s working-class Chicago neighborhood, but Charlie never suspects anything out-of-the-ordinary with his dad. That is, until Charlie finds himself in trouble with the law. He then learns that his mild-mannered father was blinded in a botched robbery and did time for it in the Illinois State Penitentiary, where he was cellmates with Nathan Leopold. As in, Nathan Leopold of Leopold and Loeb thrill-killing infamy.
I had this book (a nonfiction graphic novel that combines true crime and poetry appreciation) recommended to me recently by one of my undergraduate English professors. I always enjoyed the books I read in her classes, so her suggestions are ones I always try to follow up on. And I was not disappointed. Thanks so much for the great suggestion, Leslie!
Author David L. Carlson writes in the back of the book about how stunned he was when his friend Charlie revealed to him the story of his father’s life, a tale of crime, redemption, and Dante’s Inferno and that he just knew this was a story that had to be told.
Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of graphic novels. In theory, I should like them. I like literature, and I like art. However, I usually am not a big fan of the art in graphic novels, which lessens my enjoyment of them. I would be lying, though, if I claimed to have explored the genre much at all. Of the ones I have read, I really liked Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I am trying to broaden my horizons in this genre, and this book was an excellent way to do that.
The Hunting Accident blends a compelling story with gorgeous artwork. The stark ink drawings by Landis Blair are perfect for depicting prison, but they also work well for the Great Depression and even for the later scenes from the 1960s. Carlson and Blair also know how to use the visual nature of the genre to their advantage, with vivid and, at times, disturbing depictions of a psyche on edge.
As much as I enjoyed the artwork, the real draw for me was the story. At its heart, The Hunting Accident is a fascinating, thought-provoking exploration of friendship, the relationship between parents and children, and, above all, the power of the written word.
For all of the pithy quotations and loving tributes to reading that exist, one of my favorites has always been Malcolm X’s description of the impact reading had on him when he was in prison. I often thought of that as I was reading about Matt Rizzo, a working-class former hobo with an elementary school education, learning about poetry from one of the most infamous murderers in American history.
The characterization of the story is also complex and well-done. Carlson does not skim over the dark side of any of the characters (or the dark side of prison life, for the matter) and the book does not shy away from depicting depression and despair in a more authentic way than most pop culture engages with the topic. The tentative friendship that Leopold and Rizzo develop is also a realistic depiction of two very different people initially brought together by virtue of being locked in the same isolation cell because blind prisoners and potentially suicidal ones were both dealt with the same way in the 1930s.
The Hunting Accident is one of the most unusual books I’ve read in awhile but also one of the best I’ve read in quite sometime. If you like good graphic novels or true crime or a book that makes you think, then you’ll likely really enjoy this book.
What’s your favorite graphic novel? What’s your favorite book about the power of reading? Are you planning on reading The Hunting Accident? Tell us in the comments!