Monday, October 27, 2008

Review: The Country Nurse by Jeff Lemire

I loved, loved, loved the first volume of Jeff Lemire's Essex County, a little graphic novel called Tales From the Farm that I reviewed last year. The second volume Ghost Stories delved into the family history and turned a sports story---something I don't always like---into a pretty powerful book about a rift between two brothers. The third and final volume in the trilogy shifts the focus a bit to Anne Quenneville, a traveling nurse who cares for many in the rural community of Essex County, Canada.


Anne primarily works as a device reintroducing us to the disparate members of the Lebeuf family. Lester, no longer donning his toy superhero cape, is a little more grown up but seems quite lonely while Jimmy continues to hide himself in his job at the town filling station. Anne decides to help the family heal by urging Jimmy to step forward and finally get to know his young son Lester, giving more formal answers to questions of lineage and familial tragedy that were only hinted at in the earlier volumes.

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Lemire’s mildly cartoony art is more cinematic than ever here, making full poetic use of the wintry Canadian landscapes to force readers to pause and really feel the emotions of the characters. Lemire even makes some bold experiments in page layouts that he hasn't attempted previously. Plot-wise the story includes a side-tale of flashbacks featuring Lawrence, a Lebeuf ancestor who grew up in a desolate orphanage managed by a nun and a gruff caretaker. Although these flashbacks don’t have a direct impact upon the modern-day Lebeufs the past events do bring a deeper layer of history to the family.

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The first two volumes worked exceptionally well as standalone stories, but this volume is completely dependent on what occurred in the first two; anyone new to this story will miss a lot of the subtext. In fact it might even work best when published with the other two in a single-volume book. That said, anyone who enjoyed the rest of the trilogy will enjoy the closure this one brings, but anyone new to Lemire should pick up the earlier volumes first. The talent and power he's shown in this trilogy promises years of good work to come and I'm really excited to see what Lemire does with his upcoming project with Vertigo Books.


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