Cannonball Read IV: The Essex County Trilogy by Jeff Lemire
I’ve been trying to review Jeff Lemire’s Essex County trilogy for the last three days, and I’m definitely having trouble finding the right words for it. I think the problem is that there seem to be a limited number of synonyms for ‘amazing’.
Each book in the trilogy follows different characters who are all connected in some way, be they familial or other connections. The first book, “Tales from the Farm,” is about Lester, a young boy who lives with his uncle, and the friendship that he strikes up with local gas station attendant Jimmy LeBoeuf. Book 2, “Ghost Stories,” chronicles the lives of brothers Lou and Vince LeBoeuf from the perspective of an older Lou, now deaf and gradually blurring the mental boundary between the events of his youth and his present surroundings. The final book, “The Country Nurse,” centers on Anne, a traveling caretaker with ties to the LeBoeufs both past and present.
The books weave in and out of each other with ease as the characters’ paths cross and coincide. Events in book three inform those of books one and two, and while each book stands alone as an excellent story, the trilogy as a whole is a fascinating and somewhat breathtaking piece of work. One can only imagine the amount of material that Lemire left out of the book, that is left unsaid by the characters but that is implied by communication both verbal and physical.
Lemire’s art is what first drew me to his work on books like The Nobody and the ongoing Sweet Tooth, and here it is on spectacular display. Lemire wrote and drew the 450+ pages of the trilogy over the course of four years, and every page is exquisite in its own way. Each character has a unique look, while at the same time sharing similar features that are distinctly Lemire’s. What’s most fascinating to me, though, is how different the art is in book three as compared to book one. It has a loose quality throughout - again, part of what drew me to Lemire to begin with - but it’s wonderful to watch his style evolve over the course of reading. It’s almost as if the art changes along with the characters.
There’s a sense of isolation that permeates just about every aspect of the trilogy. None of the characters is really able to connect with any of the others (though Lester and Jimmy in the first book come the closest). No character embodies this theme more fully than Lou LeBoeuf, isolated geographically (after moving from Essex county to Toronto, he feels lost and alone among the populace), emotionally (a falling-out with his brother leads him to cut himself off from his family for years), and physically as a result of his hearing loss and increasing inability to communicate.
I would be remiss in reviewing the book if I didn’t talk about its title character, the setting of most of the book. Essex county serves different functions for different characters. To some, it’s a place to escape from as they long for something greater than a life surrounded by farmland; to others, it’s a safe haven after disasters both literal and figurative. For all of the characters, though, it’s a place that they can call home regardless of their feelings about the place.
The Essex County trilogy has won numerous awards, including the ALA’s Alex Award and the Joe Shuster Award, and it deserves every one of them and more. It is a wonderful, thought-provoking, lovingly-produced work of fiction. I’m still not sure that this review does the book justice. I honestly cannot recommend this book enough.
And yes, Virginia, there is a Cannonball Read 5!
(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)
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