Hyperbole and a Half
By Allie Brosh
I don’t read a lot of books about depression; many unhelpfully limit the conversation. But Allie Brosh’s new book of graphic essays, subtitled Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened is a direct, searingly honest, yet hilarious take on depression that’s dark in the right places. It might not offer “it gets better” reassurances, but it offers empathy, compassion, and a sense of community, which are all more valuable. “Nobody can guarantee that it’s going to be okay,” Brosh writes in “Depression Part Two,” “but… the possibility exists that there’s a piece of corn on a floor somewhere that will make you just as confused about why you are laughing as you have ever been about why you are depressed… [Not] knowing feels strangely hope-like.”
Hyperbole and a Half started as a blog in 2009, when Brosh forfeited her dreams of becoming a scientist and started sharing her drawings on the Internet. The book collects some reader favorites and some brand new pieces like “Motivation,” an essay describing Brosh’s self-induced fearing and shaming to force her to get shit done. The ensuing shame circuit in which Brosh finds herself feels all too familiar, but the way in which she eventually takes ownership of her self-destruction is eye-opening. “I’m still hoping that perhaps someday I’ll learn how to use willpower like a real person, but until that very unlikely day, I will confidently battle toward adequacy, wielding my crude skill set of fear and shame.”
Brosh’s absurd, alien-like stand-in and its manic-depressive facial expressions aim to blow depression a little bit out of proportion, and, combined with her anecdotal prose, they curiously make portraits of crippling mental illness all the more real and piercing. The tonal balance between levity and gravity is clear in the interplay between text and image; both do equal storytelling duty. Drawings elegantly (and hilariously) paint the crushing pressure of pointlessness and apathy without crossing into sentimentality. This is the book’s biggest accomplishment; some essays, like “Lost in the Woods” and “This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult,” both end with little to no catharsis for the reader. Some breakdowns stay forever.
But I laughed through the whole thing, even through some of the lukewarm pieces about her two dogs’ strange personalities. (Yes, you can most certainly have too many anecdotes about your pets in one volume!) Which is to say, I’m grateful for Allie Brosh. Hers is a welcome new voice in the conversation about depression. Measured and sober self-reflections don’t always have to be somber. You’ve still got to laugh, because “maybe everything isn’t hopeless bullshit.”