Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Country Nurse

The third book of the Essex County Trilogy, The Country Nurse simultaneously looks backward and forward. Most of the story happens now, focusing upon Anne Quenneville, a widowed nurse who  "meddles" some in the lives of the townfolk in Essex County. She has lost her husband and is caring for her twentysomething-year-old son, who is distant from her. While she makes her rounds, she looks back at what has happened in the past, finding old wounds, lost relationships, and a present where people do not always know where they came from or even who their parents are.

Constantly, the reader is shown the bleak, spare landscape of the area, which takes up a role like a character among this cast of damaged and unfulfilled people. The book opens on a scene of sewing, and that metaphor runs throughout the book as Annie's trek across the county connects scenery, history, and characters into a narrative whole. This is some fine, subtle storytelling.

This graphic novel is the work of Jeff Lemire, a multiple award winning comics creator. He won a Xeric Award for his debut book Lost Dogs. He has also won a Young Adult Library Services Association Alex Award, a Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Award for Outstanding Cartoonist, and the Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent. Currently he writes multiple series for DC Comics, including Justice League Dark and Animal Man. He also has recently published an acclaimed, original graphic novel, The Underwater Welder. Lemire talks more about his work on the Essex County Trilogy in this interview.

Reviews of the book I have read praise Lemire's craft but offer cautious approval. Hebdomeros wrote that Lemire's art is "more cinematic than ever here" but that this book "is completely dependent on what occurred in the first two; anyone new to this story will miss a lot of the subtext." And Andrew Wheeler concluded that it is "still a fine story about Canadians with truly epic-sized noses, and well worth reading for people who enjoyed the first two books – I just wouldn’t recommend starting the series here." I agree with these assessments: The Country Nurse artfully ties together the events of the first two books in the trilogy, but it is not as readable as they are as a stand-alone volume. Also, its revelations are not so impactful without a prior introduction to the characters.

A preview and much more is available from the book's publisher, Top Shelf.

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