You'll Never Know, Book Two: Collateral Damage
written by C. Tyler
Scrapbooks usually present a carefully edited version of reality. Even if the snapshots are candid, a few are left out and a few are never taken.
Carol Tyler has chosen a scrapbook format for her memoir series You'll Never Know, but the editing is the reverse of the usual—instead of airbrushing over her family's troubles, she focuses on them. She applies the same sort of creativity that other scrapbook makers use, using different styles and formats for different parts of her story, but the overall effect is more acid than cheerful.
The first book in the trilogy, A Good and Decent Man, introduced Tyler's father, Chuck, as one of those repressed, can-do Greatest Generation types, more interested in fixing things than discussing his feelings. His daughter is the opposite, sensitive to his moods and his lack of affection and curious about his experiences during the war. She is also on an emotional roller-coaster of her own, as her husband has left her for another woman.
The story is told in bits and pieces—Tyler focuses on her own life, shows vignettes of her family when she was growing up, and tells her father's story in a carefully constrained format, presented as photos carefully lined up in a scrapbook. This careful narrative is the spine of the story, and it is told in her father's measured voice. When emotion intrudes, the boundaries dissolve and Tyler uses a freer style.
The second volume picks up the story from the first, filling in more background about the family and the effects of Chuck's wartime experiences without revealing much more of the deepest trauma, the one that affected him the most. The first volume ends with a mysterious image of a Nazi soldier saying, in German, “That your children suffer because I've damaged you fills me with pride," followed by Chuck having a flashback to the war and exploding in anger. The second book begins with those words and picks up the family crisis right in the middle, with Tyler hundreds of miles away, trying to figure out what has made her father so angry. In this volume, as in the first, she must deal not only with her parents’ illnesses and her father's anger but also her teenage daughter’s problems, which are more serious than they first appear, and the dissolution of her marriage.
This could be depressing, but it’s not. Tyler’s family has some terrible moments—her father drinks too much, her mother has a stroke, and an unspeakable tragedy occurs, but the family also has lighter moments of joking and goofiness, the sort of thing that knit all families together. Tyler has a good ear; her conversations, whether it's the grownups kidding around when she was a child or the grown daughters trying to figure out how to negotiate their parents' illnesses, always ring true. Her art is sketchy and expressive, changing to fit the story, often deliberately breaking borders as she transitions from one setting to another.
At the end of this volume, Tyler has brought us only slightly closer to her father's defining moment, the event that caused his wartime trauma, but she has shown us, in depth and in detail, the effect the war has had on Chuck and his family. Far from being a single event buried in the past, the war continues to shape their lives even 40 years later, and the words of the Nazi officer are borne out: Chuck's children continue to suffer because of the damage from the war.