Leslie Stein's Thoughtful and Honest Memoir About Abortion

Self Portrait. Leslie Stein. (Courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly)

The sensitively depicted graphic memoir I Know You Rider is the story of an abortion, but more than that it's a moment in time in Leslie Stein's life.

I Know You Rider
Leslie Stein

Drawn & Quarterly

May 2020


"What do I do now? What do I do? You do the same thing you always do." - I Know You Rider

I Know You Rider, Leslie Stein's third graphic memoir, opens on an abortion clinic waiting room. The story then chronicles a year in her life, told from the moments just before she becomes unexpectedly pregnant, through her decision to have an abortion, and the months that follow.

The story doesn't follow chronologically but rather jumps from the past to the present and back. Regardless of the time, there are specific themes that crop up over and over, such as her love of nature and music. Stein takes solace in both at various points in the story, and they speak to grounding elements in her life. Her interactions with her mother, friends, and strangers all mark the various approaches she takes in analyzing her decision and when to disclose it.

Stein's watercolor drawings and penciled lettering are especially effective in conveying what can often come across as ambivalence but is really a measured approach. There's no big breakdown in the story, and there's no major a-ha! moment of realization. Instead, Stein grapples with her decision to have an abortion in smaller, more understated ways. The conversations she has about actively deciding to have children, often without revealing her pregnancy or abortion, speak to the thought and consideration she's put into her own choice without overtly spelling it out.

(Courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly)

The man in the equation is nameless and faceless. He's someone she's been friendly with in the past, but he's not a close friend or boyfriend. His reaction is portrayed as matter of fact and nonnegotiable. He tells her the decision to have an abortion or keep the baby is hers alone, and when she proposes the idea that they're compatible and might consider going out, he responds that he doesn't believe in relationships. It's quickly made clear that he won't be any help, regardless of her decision, or even his offer to accompany her to her abortion.

Much of what makes I Know You Rider work so well is captured in the fleeting or seemingly unimportant moments of her life. One of those scenes takes place during a visit she and her mom take to see her childhood best friend, who's just had twins. As her friend gives one of the babies a bath, Stein sits on the toilet watching. She listens to her talk about her struggles with going back to work, missing the twins, and being exhausted all the time. Her friend apologizes for not being as good a friend, as she points out that Stein has traveled for her wedding, baby shower, and now to see the twins, but she's never been to one of Stein's book talks or gigs when she was in a band. It's a quick couple of pages, but it highlights the drastic differences in their lives.

There's a sequence that comes near the end of the story that recounts the direct aftermath of her abortion. She's asked to sign paperwork, given follow-up information, and offered a sonogram image, which she accepts. As she tries to find some semblance of normalcy once she's home, she eventually posts on social media the sonogram. After initially getting congratulations responses, she's horrified and writes back, "That's not what this is," pours herself another drink, and goes to sleep. As supportive messages await when she wakes up, she deletes the post and acknowledges to herself, "Too soon." The scene offers insight into the conflicting feelings and emotional upheaval she's been dealing with this whole time.

She acknowledges the many complex feelings she struggled with throughout her pregnancy and in the nine months following her abortion. Those nine months are marked by thoughts of where she'd be if she'd decided to continue her pregnancy. In playing out those what-ifs, she promises herself that she wouldn't shy away from the emotions they bring up. Through it all, she continues to live her life—sharing that she had an abortion with some close friends and, surprisingly, with some strangers.

I Know You Rider is the story of an abortion, but more than that it's a moment in time in Stein's life. Though clearly a defining chapter in her life, Stein makes a point to repeatedly emphasize the other things in her life that give it meaning. It's those details that make the book more than what could've been a heavy slog. Instead, I Know You Rider is an honest story about a subject that rarely gets as light a touch as this, and without sacrificing the emotions she experiences in the aftermath.

(Courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly)







Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.