Summary: A harrowing memoir of loss and the struggle to connect, Brown’s story is told with a spare poetic elegance. A self-absorbed teenager, Chester Brown strays into the difficult territory of friendship and early love while at home there is a slowly building crisis over his mother’s mental health. Emotionally intense, the story veers unsteadily between the extremes of eerie detachment and sudden desperate outbursts of need. A complex and disturbing true story told with a nuanced, queasy visual style that lingers in the mind long after the book has been put away.
I Never Liked You, by Chester Brown 7.25
‘I Never Liked You’ is a serial comic that was first published in volumes 26 to 30 of ‘Yummy Fur’, from October 1991 to April 1993. It’s a kind of memoir, focusing on moments from Chester Brown’s youth, from his grade school to high school days
It’s a very different book than ‘Paying For It‘ in that it has no agenda. It also doesn’t have a clear narrative. If anything, it’s an examination of the emotional turmoil of a boy as he copes with bullying, navigates male-female relationships and his home life.
In some ways it’s a good companion piece to ‘Paying For It’ because it fills the picture nicely; it shows us some of the roots of what made Chet Brown the way he is now. His neurotic tendencies, awkwardness with women, his emotional detachment all stem from here.
To me, it’s fascinating stuff – especially in retrospect, after having read his latest offering. But it’s a book that will likely bore many readers, as not much happens. Frankly, read without the perspective of ‘Paying For It’ it really is a bit aimless.
Personally, it affected me greatly. It pained me to watch the young Chester Brown close up the way that he did, becoming emotionally distant, if not stunted. It reminded me of a close friend of mine and it drew from some of the experiences that I myself have had.
When I saw Brown want to comfort his mother, to say the words that she needed to hear to make her feel alright, but be completely unable to get it out, it reflected my own inability to express myself in key moments – something that pains me greatly.
There’s so much I want to say and can’t. I feel blocked much of the time, and when I try to express those ideas or emotions it comes out all wrong, like a circus freakshow: it’s a deformed version of what is supposed to be, and it usually elicits horror or feelings of aversion.
Brown’s relationship with his mentally-ill mother echoed my own, although he had it much harder than I did: his mother was hospitalized a couple of times, whereas mine never was. Mine was “merely” mired in deep depressions, and didn’t seem to know how to get better.
My mother would f-ing wail in her bedroom for hours all the time. Yes, wail: it filled the house. We would go to church (she was on a constant quest for meaning) and we would spend the afternoons in the parking lot while she cried ceaselessly. Sundays were dreadful.
Brown’s relationship with women could very well be rooted in his relationship with his mother. I found it frustrating to watch him pass up on strong connections for reasons that mystified even himself. He just seemed frozen, incapable of action – even when all the groundwork was done for him.
Similarly, I’ve spent my life not being able to act, or not knowing how/when to, with women. Often it was my deep-seeded timidity that hobbled me, sometimes it was the intention of doing the right thing – of not taking advantage of situation for my own benefit.
Either way, I’ve felt regret about a lot of these stillborn relationships because sometimes I’ve inadvertently hurt people, sometimes I missed out for stupid reasons. And for what? For nothing. Because I am programmed in a way that prevents me for doing what others can.
And so it was that Chester Brown’s memoir brought to the fore my emotionally-tortured past. And present. Some of us aren’t given the tools to cope with normal everyday situations the way others are. And most of that comes from our childhood experiences.
Although ‘I Never Liked You’ may seem like not much at first glance, it buries deep within it a truth that not everyone dares to share. Brown may have shared his truth in as detached a manner as he navigates his emotions, but he does it ably, to great effect.
I may grow to like ‘I Never Liked You’ more. And I suspect I will also grow to like Chester Brown more and more as I continue to explore his oeuvre.