Our Little Secret by Emily Carrington from Drawn+Quarterly is her graphic memoir showing how the assault by her neighbor when she was fifteen has impacted her life even four decades later. It stands out from other memoirs that may present the tragic story leading to the painful conclusion of a predatory relationship or that may tell the process of survival and recovery afterward or that may even explain psychology or the legal actions for defense. Carrington’s story gives all this and more in a complete reflection as engaging as a conversation across the table.
Throughout Our Little Secret, Carrington literally presents herself across the table, speaking directly with the audience and showing her body language in reaction to her storytelling. The narrative is carried seamlessly from the conversational to the flashbacks, which give illustration to the good, the bad, and the very ugly in her tale.
Our Little Secret begins with flies in a splash-page that uses forced perspective to have an enormous disgusting insect right in the reader’s view while showing Carrington’s father’s log cabin in the elongated background. It serves as a powerful metaphor for the stories since flies are so tiny and yet they fill our minds as soon as they come to our attention, souring everything else around us. This works just as do assaults, which may take place over a relatively small amount of time yet are so dominant in the survivors’ lives.
Carrington drives her story of Our Little Secret with biography. She explains how she came into the situation of abuse from wanting to live with her eccentric father after her parents’ divorce so that she could keep her beloved animals. A neighbor, seemingly a good friend, grooms her as his prey, steps which Carrington details in how predators isolate and silence victims. Carrington then shows how life carries on after, detailing the failures of the legal system and even incorporating her creation of the book as a way to process the story as she tells it in hopes of helping others. As the story comes toward the end, Carrington becomes increasingly figurative, showing allegories of forgotten justice and her own lost self, starved, naked, and hidden. She discusses the hero’s journey and how stories are expected to have a triumphant or even tragic end while life does not always work that way at all.
The art in Our Little Secret uses very clean line-work with stark black against the white paper. This creates vivid characters as well as lending to thoroughly detailed backgrounds that demonstrate Carrington’s world. Other backgrounds are blank, effectively highlighting the emotional weight carried in the characters’ faces, especially the blurred smudges of the attacker’s face, too horrible to even be real. The pages are densely packed with sometimes twelve or more panels, yet most panels are so straightforward as a close-up focus on a character that the story moves fast. This makes the large panels stand out and gives the reader a moment of breath before the story rolls along again, much like the world’s never-ending pace even in spite of the horrors that hang onto us like flies.