Sarah Leavitt

When Judy MacDonald spoke about her writing recently in Vancouver, she fascinated her audience with glimpses into how her mind works and the weird angle from which she observes the world. She describes herself as a magpie, someone who collects her material from small, odd moments in everyday life: characters, images and stories found in newspaper clippings or observed on bus rides. Maybe the stories in her collection Grey (Arsenal Pulp) started out as quirky anecdotes told by friends, or odd incidents reported in the news. If so, many of the quirky or odd bits must have been lost on the way from the source material to the book. Stories like “Writer’s Block,” in which the seven-year-old protagonist leaves home and lives in an old cabin by herself, smoking cigars and drinking Scotch, or “It,” where little boys are at their creepy best, stand out for their substance and wit in a collection of overly detailed descriptions of ordinary characters doing forgettable things. MacDonald says she tries not to take her writing too seriously, and of course a book doesn’t have to make grand statements about the meaning of life. But if a story does little more than present us with a flat account of something that is kind of interesting, why should we read it? Why not clip the newspaper article or ride the bus ourselves? Chris, the doltish man in “boygirlhappy,” sums up how I felt after finishing the book: “[Elaine] says, ‘I just thought you might be interested.’ Chris says, ‘Interested in what? I don’t have a clue what the story is. I don’t know what the point is.’” But maybe MacDonald would tell me, as Elaine tells Chris, “I wasn’t thinking about a point. I was just saying what happened. Forget it.”

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Sarah Leavitt

Sarah Leavitt is the author of the graphic memoir Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My mother, and Me, which was a finalist for the Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize in 2010 and is currently in development as a feature-length animation. Leavitt teaches comics classes at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Visit her at


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