This unique hybrid of collage art and literature narrates the adventurous and traumatic life of Constance, a character based on Green's aunt. Told in letters, photographs, documents, and other materials, Constance's story begins in the dirt-poor town of Oil City, Pennsylvania, during the Great Depression and moves to Italy, where Constance toured with the USO during World War II.
In her book Frail Sister Karen Green gives...a searing portrait of one woman’s destruction by men and their institutions in 20th century America. It’s also an ambitious collage attempting to place the reader within an imagined consciousness—typically the provenance of prose literature. Green achieves this: her book is transcendently and uniquely beautiful ... Frail Sister looks squarely at men’s casual violence upon those without agency, and at the terrors of unwanted pregnancies before Roe v. Wade ... Green is asking us to look, and to do so with urgency ... images—as authentic as the Marlboro-filled ashtrays on the set of Mad Men—deepen our engagement. We don’t 'read' it as a novel, nor as an art book. We simply read it, without friction, as itself ... If we step back from the narrative, the scope of Green’s achievement comes into view. She’s managed to integrate a nuanced literary voice, a rigorous visual aesthetic, and an entire life story into a masterwork. Imagine a book which produces the feeling of mourning within your body, the actual emotion in your chest and stomach, which you carry around with you, every day, just a little bit. That is Frail Sister. It isn’t a story. It’s a memorial.
Each page of this unique graphic narrative is a visual bombshell collage ... The pleasure comes by way of guessing and fitting the pieces together, though the process might frustrate you until you let go trying to figure it out ... I found it impossible to simply leaf through this gorgeous book. The artwork is reproduced so authentically that readers might imagine the pages could crumble in one’s hands. These are the sensations Green cultivates—fragility and discovery. Frail Sister moves beyond the nostalgia for the past and dwells in what is unknowable from the start ... Green tests the limit of how far a genuine drama may be wrung from nostalgia, a nostalgia so worked over, engaging and convincing that what happens to the speaker seems to have happened to you, or someone you know. I approached the book the way I dipped into my own dead father’s footlocker from WWI, for the secrets kept there. The story requires the reader’s keen attention, to play a forensic investigator, while at the same time letting go of linear logic ... Frail Sister is not simply a graphic narrative made up of a compelling art form—it is a song, a dirge, a mystery, and a tragic lark.
The narrative is unsettling, the danger of women’s sexuality, even as children, looms over the entire story ... Many of the notes are typed on scraps of paper, hymn booklets from church...envelopes from letters received, and studio portrait photographs. When the text is typed on top of existing text, as with hymns, Green is careful to avoid complete illegibility, instead creating a multilayered reading experience. This collaging of materials is both familiar and jarring: locks of hair are affixed to sweet notes as tokens next to photos of soldiers whose faces are scratched over with messages indicating their deaths ... Connie refutes the myth of quiet femininity to tell a story of extreme suffering, often at the hands of men ... The designs and cute doodles sit against a narrative of painful trauma, a physical ripping apart and sewing back together ... Green shows us how, after years of abuse and neglect, a woman can hold on and sustain herself. Though fictional, Green’s elegant collaging of image and text makes for a compelling story that stands in for so many women’s lives cut short by the whims of men and the objectification of their bodies.