Monday, February 23, 2009

Essex County: Ghost Stories and The Country Nurse -- Jeff Lemire

A couple of weeks ago, I read and enjoyed Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel, TALES FROM THE FARM. Now I’ve read the other two volumes in his Essex County trilogy, and they’re almost as good. Volume 2, GHOST STORIES, tells the story of two hockey-playing brothers, Lou and Vince, and covers more than fifty years of their lives, courtesy of flashbacks by an elderly Lou. Volume 3, THE COUNTRY NURSE, centers around a middle-aged woman who’s a visiting nurse, checking in on patients throughout the county several times a week.

Some of the characters appear in all three volumes, as their storylines wander in and out with each other. Like real life, in other words. But all three volumes, read together, form a fairly coherent history of a couple of interconnected families over the past ninety years. It’s a little soap opera-ish, what with all the infidelities, hidden pregnancies, madness, and death. I’d be tempted to call it Canadian Gothic, if not for the fact that Lemire approaches his subject matter in such a terse, almost hardboiled manner. The plot may be a little over the top, but Lemire’s storytelling never is.

I don’t think GHOST STORIES and THE COUNTRY NURSE are quite as good as TALES FROM THE FARM with its superhero influences, but they’re still very good, and the trilogy as a whole is well worth reading. If your tastes run more toward literary fiction and you’ve never tried a graphic novel, the Essex County Trilogy would be a fine place to start.

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