Page 45 Review by Stephen
Loaded with melancholy and loss but above all stoicism, Jeff Smith writes, "The subtle inter-weaving of Jeff Lemire's ESSEX COUNTY Trilogy is brilliant and constantly surprising. The cumulative impact left a lump in my throat."
Whilst not ideal we have to prioritise, so here are excerpts from our previous three reviews, the first from myself, the superior two by Simon Robinson...
The first chapter begins with four seasons on a remote farm. Lester lost his mother to cancer shortly after she begged her brother to look after him. Uncle Kenny doesn't know the first thing about children, but he tries, bless him. He tries to involve Lester as much as possible, but he's rebuffed, time after time (and none too sensitively on occasions) with a "no" or a "nah". It's not that Lester is offensive or rebellious, he's just quiet and contained in his fantasies of alien invasion and just a little lonely until he meets Jimmy, an ox of a man who was injured on his first ice hockey game for the Toronto Maple leafs, and who Uncle Kenny says is now somewhat slow in the head. Jeff Lemire could have played all this so much more obviously, mining Les' plight for sympathy, but he doesn't. The countryside scenes in the shifting seasons are beautiful - not too fussy, not remotely overwrought, with a light that evokes the weather and time of the year beautifully.
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"You know, there are only two ways to be completely alone in this world...lost in a crowd...or in total isolation."
Upon reaching the end of this second book I did something I have never done before in 20 something years of reading comics - I turned straight back to page one and read the whole thing through again from start to finish. The first read left me stunned, in a self-reflective silence. The second read left me in tears; and in a public place as well. My father would be deeply ashamed.
'Ghost Stories' follows the lives of brothers Lou and Vince Lebeuf over seven decades. It is told mainly in flashback by Lou as his brain withers from the blight of senile dementia. In the 50s, he and Vince played professional ice hockey. But that was before. Before the play-off finals, before the injury, before Mary
before the accident. Twenty-five years later the brothers are cast together once again but Vince finds an empty place in his heart where he used to keep his love for Lou. And yet, dying, they cling to one another as their fragile lives splinter and weather until nothing but memories remain. The strength of this book lies within the subtle ease with which it captures the human spirit. The awful gnawing sadness of old age is delivered in every glass of whiskey, every aching joint and every single tear.
"Only two ways to be alone in this world, ey? Looks like I went and found another."
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And there it is on page 447: the glue that holds the ESSEX COUNTY trilogy together. With a simple family tree, backed with the sorrowful, ageing glare of Sister Margaret Byrne, the full melancholic scale of this wonderful, tragic story is finally revealed.
'The Country Nurse' interweaves the heartbreak of the fire at Margaret's orphanage in 1917 and the unbearable poignancy of her granddaughter's life as the modern day country nurse. Weaving, gliding between the two tales flies the now familiar crow - a harbinger of death or a bringer of hope? It's difficult to tell - so many of the characters in ESSEX COUNTY are like retired boxers, back for one comeback too many. They've been thumped and kicked from one corner of life to the other and yet, punch drunk, they reel to shaking feet only to have life smash them to the ground once more for good effect.
'The Country Nurse' makes my chest ache and my limbs heavy with sadness. Yet, simultaneously, it exhilarates me and leaves me addictively turning the pages for more.