Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Cartoonist Jeff Lemire's three interrelated stories about lonely people living in a rural part of southwestern Ontario have been collected into a single volume in Essex County. I had read each one individually as they were released and now I'm very glad to have read them again, all together. Their combined impact is stunning. I marvelled at Lemire's craftmanship - both the narrative and images are powerful and moving.

Book one: Tales from the Farm. Lester, a ten-year-old orphan, goes to live with his uncle and the two are painfully awkward in their grief and inability to connect with each other. Luckily, Lester finds a kindred spirit in Jimmy Lebeuf, the former NHL player who runs the local Esso station. A nice touch: Lemire used his own childhood drawings for Lester's attempts at superhero comics.

Book two: Ghost Stories. Lou and Vince Lebeuf are brothers playing on the same professional hockey team in the early 50s in Toronto, until Lou's attraction to Vince's fiance drives a permanent wedge between them. Nice touch: The illustration of Lou flying through the air right after he scores a winning goal is based on the iconic photo of Bobby Orr taken by Ray Lussier at the Stanley Cup in 1970. (Even I, a non-sports fan, was able to recognize it!) Another nice touch: The Fuel Station bar where the hockey team hangs out in Toronto forms a link to the gas station operated by Vince's son in book one.

Book three: The Country Nurse. Flipping back and forth between two time periods, a young nun cares for a group of children in a church orphanage in 1917 and a travelling nurse looks after her patients in present day. Nice touch: The parallels between the two time periods are emphasized with two almost identical panels, the young orphan Lawrence Lebeuf feeding chickens in 1917, and Lester Papineau doing the same chore in contemporary times. Only the scene through the open door of the chicken coop is different. Which reminds me of another nice touch: The Forest Glade Nursing Home (in books two and three) echoes the former orphanage in its clearing in the woods.

I really love this work and was delighted that it was one of the five Canada Reads titles this year (even though my pick, Skim, didn't make it past the top 40). It was disappointing that the comics format, rather than the content, was the focus of the discussion on air. My library book club has chosen Essex County for our meeting tomorrow. One of the members said she had brought it in on hold at the library some months ago because of Canada Reads but then sent it back when she saw it was a graphic novel. I'm pleased that she decided to give it a try for the book club and I look forward to our discussion.

NOTE: This is my 500th post on Lindy Reads and Reviews. I had hoped to mark this milestone with the addition of an alphabetical index to all of the books here, but I haven't had time to create that. Soon, I hope. (Well, after I'm back from holidays... and after I've got the weeding caught up in my garden when I return... and who knows what else will interfere... besides reading more books... )

Another note, added July 28: The book discussion of Essex County went very well last night. 8 out of the 13 people there had never read a graphic novel previously and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Hooray for Jeff Lemire!

NOTE, added August 17: I was tickled to see a French edition of Essex County in a comic store in Brussels. It was displayed next to one by another Canadian, Guy Delisle.


Claire G said...

Congratulations on 500 posts! You slipped that in very quietly. I think you should take my PR advice and trumpet it loud and long. On the other hand, I've only published 27 posts so far, so what do I know? Thanks for all the good reading.

Lindy said...

You are welcome. I'm honoured to have readers following my blog.