Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review: Essex County

You might think a group of stories set in rural Canada might be a bit dull to read through, but Essex County is anything but dull.  Told in three separate, yet interconnected, stories, Essex County delivers a powerful emotional tale that is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming.

The first part titled, Tales From the Farm, the story focuses on Lester, a ten year old boy who is recently orphaned and living with his Uncle on a farm.  Lester's relationship with his Uncle is a strained one, and the boy is mostly friendless and alone.  That is, until he meets and becomes friends with Jimmy Lebuef, the owner of the local gas station.  Together Lester and Jimmy escape their otherwise mundane lives and delve into a world of forts, alien invasions, superheroes, and pond hockey. 

The second tale, titled Ghost Stories, tells the story of the lives of brothers Lou and Vince Lebeuf over the course of seven decades.  The older brother Lou, is now deaf, and living out his days on a farm, and doing his best to avoid the ministrations of his traveling nurse.  Through the course of the story we see the lives of the two hockey playing brothers through Lou's aged flashbacks.  Lou's flashbacks aren't just scenes that depict hockey glory, Lou has a lot of guilt that has built up over the years due to decisions he made that caused a major rift between him and his brother.  As Lou revisits his life you can begin to see how the stories of Essex County interconnect with one another.

The third and final story in Essex County is titled The Country Nurse and focuses on Anne Queeneville, the one person who ties in with all the other characters of Essex County in some way, shape or form.  This story also follows up on the characters of the previous two parts and tells a side tale of Sister Margaret Byrne and the orphanage that she ran.  There is also a handy little Essex County family tree near the end that illustrates the families and the links that are woven into this story.

All told, Essex County is a wonderfully crafted story really pulls on the heart strings.  Though Lemire's artwork features his unique sparse style, with bold and chunky lines, he manages to deliver a powerful emotional punch with this story.  Simply put, this is probably the saddest story I've ever read, and nearly drew tears on multiple occasions.

The characters in this graphic novel are all easy to relate to, and have lives and problems that are not unlike those of everyone else on the planet.  Sure, not everyone lives on a farm in rural Canada, but at the basic level, that of getting by in a tough world, making hard decisions, living your dream, and making mistakes are things that everyone does, whether they like it or not, and that's what makes Essex County a true gem.  The fact that it tells a real story of humanity.

Though it is up against some tough competition, Essex County is the best graphic novel I've read this year, and I fully expect it to stay at, or very near the top of that list as the year goes on.  A truly beautiful story, and one that I will be recommending to anyone who will listen.  I urge everyone to give this one a shot, as I think it is wonderful.  Just be sure to wear your hockey pads to defend against punches in the emotions!

Grade: A+


Anonymous said...

love your review! i think it definitely does justice to how i viewed "Essex County" as well. and i agree, Jeff Lemire did an incredible job with his art and the way he captured each character's feeling of loneliness and isolation. after reading this one, i'm going to have to give Sweet Tooth a try!

Ryan said...

hey Anon-

Glad to hear you loved the review! You should totally check out Sweet Tooth, it is amazing! You can see how his earlier works like Essex County influence his current work on Sweet Tooth