Phoebe Potts, “Good Eggs: A Memoir,” HarperCollins, 2010, 251 pp., $23.99.
Don’t think extended versions of Doonesbury, Donald Duck, or Garfield when you read Island-raised artist Phoebe Potts’s graphic memoir, “Good Eggs.” This charming account of the challenges Ms. Potts and her husband Jeff faced in trying to become parents skips deadening comic-book stereotypes and cartoon-strip logic and gets to the heart of illustrated storytelling.
What “Good Eggs” does have in common with the cartoon tradition is a wonderfully warm sense of humor and whimsy. For those of us who like me haven’t delved into the trendy, very modern genre of graphic books before, “Good Eggs” is a revelation.
Ms. Potts unites words and pictures as naturally as if the combination was the only %u2014 and one of the best %u2014ways to tell modern stories. The graphic book genre liberates the author to create a multilayered approach to storytelling.
While the narrator may agonize over self-doubts, the cat at her feet may simultaneously mutter about food in one cell. In another, the narrator’s mother may spin like a tornado with busy-ness.
I have known Phoebe, her parents %u2014 West Tisbury journalist/filmmakers Robert and Marjory Potts %u2014 and brother Oliver since her Bat Mitzvah, and I have seen much of her art work in addition to “Good Eggs.” You may take my opinions with that in mind, but I have thought for a long time she was a talented artist, and now I know she is a talented storyteller as well. Hard to put down, the book is an entertaining and pleasurable read.
Brooklyn-born, Ms. Potts landed on the Island with her parents in time for junior high. With four years at Smith College under her belt, she started work as a union organizer, campaigned for former Texas governor Ann Richards, and stalled into a depression, which she describes with heartwarming frankness, while learning Spanish in Mexico.
Each of the episodes in her quest for maturity finds a place in “Good Eggs,” although not always in chronological sequence. Centrally, Ms. Potts meets fellow artist and husband-to-be Jeffrey Marshall while teaching art in an after-school program.
Along the way, Ms. Potts doesn’t just let life happen to her. She applies her well-honed intelligence, insights, and sense of humor to what she sees and experiences.
The author/artist uses traditional, word-ballooned visual panels to tell a story that is richly nuanced and fully as sophisticated as any conventional, word-bound memoir. The deftness with which she draws herself and the characters that make up her world adds lightness and humor. It is matched by her refreshing honesty and openness about the roadblocks she encounters and her ability to put things %u2014 especially herself %u2014 into perspective.
The book’s foreword sets out the author’s dilemma: her inability to get pregnant, the soul-searching it provokes, and the trials and tribulations of fertility treatments. Ms. Potts weaves into this central theme the family background that has helped form her, her evolving commitment to Judaism, and the experiences that have helped define her as an adult.
It takes time, patience, and plenty of dead ends before Ms. Potts settles down and commits herself to a life as an artist and teacher. Frank about her struggles with depression, she casts a firmly analytical eye on therapy, able to leave one unsatisfactory therapeutic experience and find another that works better for her.
Ms. Potts’s sojourn as an administrative assistant at Harvard University produces a dead-on assessment of what women experience in that lowly position now and in the past. Her observations of other clients at the fertility clinic she and her husband visit are funny and poignant, even for those readers long past their childbearing years.
“Good Eggs” is a book to be enjoyed by young and old, male and female, Vineyarders and off-Islanders alike. Don’t let anyone tell you books are passe. This is one you’ll want to hold in your hands, pass on to friends, and make a gift of at holidays.
Frequent contributor Brooks Robards divides her time between Oak Bluffs and Northampton.