They say the city gets in your blood, but that’s crap. The city doesn’t become part of you.. you become part of it. It soaks you up bit by bit, year after year. Until you’re just another tiny part of its system… pumping through its veins, lost in its arteries.
The Complete Essex County
By Jeff Lemire
Where does a young boy turn when his whole world suddenly disappears? What turns two brothers from an unstoppable team into a pair of bitterly estranged loners? How does the simple-hearted care of one middle-aged nurse reveal the scars of an entire community, and can anything heal the wounds caused by a century of deception? Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Lemire pays tribute to his roots with Essex County, an award-winning trilogy of graphic novels set in an imaginary version of his hometown, the eccentric farming community of Essex County, Ontario, Canada.
It’s rare that a book makes me want to cry. Feel emotions? Sure, all the time. But honest-to-goodness waterworks? I’m struggling to think of the last time I stumbled across that.
Book Two of Essex County though? I was at a loss for words. Titled Ghost Stories, it follows the life of a man struggling with deafness and dementia as he flashed back to the past he shared with his brother, with the sport of hockey, and with the family that he distanced himself from for song long. It is a tale of choices and tragedies, and of the profound loneliness you can feel when you are cut off from everything but swallowed up by a fast-moving world around you. I had to stop and put the book down for a day once that story ended.
The heartbreaking narrative is emphasized by Lemire’s stark, simple, black-and-white artwork. The panels convey emotions expertly- sometimes you will go pages at a time without a single piece of dialog or bit of narration, but you can still follow along with ease. Many times the absence of words gives the scene more power than it would’ve had with them. It is very moving, and beautifully done.
I’ve talked mostly about Book 2, but should also mention the other major components – Tales from the Farm and The Country Nurse. In the former, a young boy struggles to connect with his uncle who has adopted him following his mother’s death. In the latter, a middle aged nurse muses on her life and her community, meddling with the secrets and scars of both. I enjoyed both of these tales immensely, and especially how Country Nurse fit everything together, though they didn’t resonate as strongly as Ghost Stories. I’m not sure what that says about me as I have very little in common with either brother in that tale, but there you go.
Should You Read This?
This is a beautifully written and illustrated look at what it means to be alone, to make mistakes, to change (or not). Even if you’re not a fan of the graphic novel genre I would suggest giving this one a spin. Bring tissues.
Summary from Goodreads