(Throughout 2011, every month CCLaP staff writer Oriana Leckert is looking at a different graphic novel from a "girl's" point of view, examining this notoriously male-dominated medium from a female perspective, and sometimes aided by her fellow members of a Brooklyn book club devoted to the same subject. For all of Oriana's J&C essays, please see her main article index here at the site.)
By Jeff Lemire
Reviewed by Oriana Leckert
Do you know how cool Canada is? While we're drooling over Real Housewives of Who the Fuck Cares, they're watching a show called Canada Reads, where five famous people each pick a book and "defend" it, and then they all vote one book off each day, winding up with one winner, the book that "all of Canada should read." That is fucking rad.
I learned about that only because Essex County was in this year's running--the first graphic novel that's ever had that honor. Even though it didn't win, it's clear that Canadians, at least, care about this book a lot. And from the little bit of research I did prior to writing this review (trolling GoodReads, mostly), it seems like a lot of people like this book a lot.
I'm sorry to say I'm not one of them.
Oh, it's not a bad book, it's just not really for me. It's incredibly, relentlessly bleak. It's populated by extremely lonely people, people isolated by their own bad choices and by the deaths of those they've loved, people moving through their lives barely holding up under the weight of their accumulated sorrow and regret. It's also about hockey.
This is actually a collection of three volumes. Book one is about a boy living on his uncle's farm after his mom has died; book two is an old man looking back over his heart-wrenching life as a failed pro hockey player; book three is about a disaster at an orphanage in the woods. The stories are straightforward, no-nonsense, kind of working-class-style comics. They have no pretensions, no machinations, no trickery.
And they're done well. The illustrations reinforce the bleakness of the stories, which takes place in (can you guess?) Essex County, Canada, where apparently it snows all the time. All of the stories have similar characters, who are either the same character or relatives of each other or just thematically linked, and this too is done very well, usually with just a particularly shaped nose. The characters are well formed, many with rich inner lives. And just about all of them play hockey, either for fun or professionally, and there are long game sequences, which even though I don't really know all the rules of hockey were totally followable and dramatic.
So yeah, for what it was, it was good. But it was just. so. sad. Too much loneliness, too much despair, too many uncorrectable mistakes, too many miserable people making each other more and more miserable. I hate that. I hate sad movies, too. It's probably a failing in my character, but there you are. Life is sad enough; I don't need to depress myself in my escapism too.