And that may be why I was so taken with Essex County. It's a stunningly beautiful book, comprised of three interwoven stories that explore alienation, family, love, loss, and betrayal in a southern Ontario farming community over the decades. An orphaned boy who wears the shield of a superhero, two hockey hero brothers torn asunder by secrets, a public health nurse whose entire life is the community are the rich characters who are depicted so strikingly within the novel.
I took my time reading this book. I wanted to savour the experience, to give this haunting book the full attention it deserves. I found myself pouring over the black and white artwork, marveling at the emotions that Jeff Lemire brings to the faces of the characters with just a few lines. Their eyes in particular speak volumes, while the people themselves are largely silent.
Lemire manipulates perspective and space so masterfully in his drawings that you can't help but get lost in them. From the intimacy of facial closeups to the staggeringly open spaces of his large panels, Lemire tells an incredible story with a few strokes of the pen and a handful of words. The large panels, of field and sky and forest and staircases, are especially striking. They often function as scene changers, but they are so much more than just place markers; at times I was overwhelmed by the sheer power of these enormously silent panels.
Essex County is one of the novels battling for this year's Canada Reads championship, the first graphic novel ever to be included in the competition. It will be championed by Sara Quinn and (fun fact!) came to be on the Canada Reads list via a nomination by our very own book meister.
My copy of Essex County fell into my hands via the thoughtfulness of my very dear friend, who sends me wonderful things. I owe him enormously for this.
Essex County is a poignant novel, which leaves you deeply wistful after the last page is turned. But within the poignancy there is profound beauty. I know I will be opening those pages again and again to return to Essex County.