Essex County by Jeff LemireI was shocked as most people to find out that Essex County by Jeff Lemire, a graphic novel, made the Canada Reads list this year. Canada Reads has strict criteria — no short stories, no poetry, fiction only. I was worried that it wouldn’t have a level playing field during Canada Reads (and I was right) but those opinions aside…

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have picked up Essex County if it wasn’t for Canada Reads — which is the whole point, exposing new readers to new books. It’s not that I don’t like graphic novels, it’s just that I probably wouldn’t have been aware of it, as they aren’t normally in my radar. That being said, I did enjoy the book.

Where does a young boy turn when his whole world suddenly disappears? What could change two brothers from an unstoppable team into a pair of bitterly estranged loners? How does the work of one middle-aged nurse reveal the scars of an entire community, and can anything heal the wounds caused by a century of deception?

Set in an imaginary version of Jeff Lemire’s hometown, Essex County is an intimate study of an eccentric farming community, and a tender meditation on family, memory, grief, secrets, and reconciliation. With the lush, expressive inking of a cartoonist at the height of his powers, Lemire draws us in and sets us free.

From the publisher, Top Shelf Comix

Originally written as separate comics, I really enjoyed the collected stories of Essex County. The three main parts have a unique interconnectedness of the characters. I love stories where you are continually making new connections between characters past, present, and even future. It’s that concept of “six degrees of separation” that really intrigues me.

I wasn’t really a fan of the drawing style which was very sketchy. I found it didn’t have enough emotion and wasn’t able to portray the feelings accurately. For example, you might have three frames that slowly zoom in on a character’s eyes, but the sketchy style has such a lace of emotion with the eye being just a dot and the eyebrows being just a line. The zoom in on their eyes and that emotional set-up fell flat for me. For wider scenes I was able to put my issues aside and enjoy the details achieved with such a style.

My favourite character, once we learned his story, was the older man, Lou Lebeuf. I think it was because we got a taste of his entire life, we got to see the prime of his life, the downfall, and then the result. He was the top of the family tree in the three stories and that, coupled with the fact that we weren’t introduced to him first, was very interesting to me.

I’m not even going to comment on the Canada Reads debates. I meant to get this review up before the debates this past week, but alas did not. Perhaps I’ll comment on the debates in a separate post (read: rant) but not here.