THE COUNTRY NURSE

THE COUNTRY NURSE: ESSEX COUNTY VOL 3
Written and Drawn by Jeff Lemire
Published by
Top Shelf

Anne Byrne makes her rounds through Essex County, rain or shine, seeing to the good health and welfare of the local populace. Whether it’s checking in on Jimmy Lebeuf and updating him on his father’s health, or seeing to Kenny, Lester Papineau’s guardian, she’s on the job. But her family history follows her everywhere. Her grandmother, Sister Catherine Byrne, once played a similar role in the community. Yet Anne is also stymied by her own inability to minister to her own son, bereft of his father for four years now. But ultimately, someone must lend their strength to the people, and Anne feels a responsibility to be there for those around her.

Along with Dash Shaw’s BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON, Alex Robinson’s TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN, and Blake Bell’s book on Steve Ditko, THE COUNTRY NURSE is one of the most anticipated graphic novels of 2008. The first two parts of Lemire’s ESSEX COUNTY trilogy (TALES FROM THE FARM and GHOST STORIES) were both among the best books of the year when they came out, and you had to be curious if Lemire could deliver an ending worthy of what he began. And with THE COUNTRY NURSE, he has done just that.

Tying together some of the threads from the first two books, and going backward in time to fill in some blanks, Lemire has finished his saga in rousing fashion. Anne isn’t perhaps as strong a personality on the page as some of the earlier characters, but it is her heart and determination to do right by people that begins closing some of the loops that he opened previously. Lester’s parentage, the Lebeuf family, the settling of the area itself… it all draws together here.

The art is brilliant and dynamic, and Lemire takes a little more time to work on atmosphere and symbolism here, opening things up and slowing down the pace a bit. Sometimes that’s a mistake, but here it matches the actual milieu on the page, so it works just fine.

One of the hardest things in writing (or filmmaking) to do is finish the story right. Not only right by the story’s logic, but also right by the reader and viewer who invested in the tale. Jeff Lemire stuck the landing. Hats off to him.

Marc Mason

ESSEX COUNTY VOL 2: GHOST STORIES

ESSEX COUNTY VOL 2: GHOST STORIES
Written and Drawn by Jeff Lemire
Published by
Top Shelf

Lou Lebeuf has lived a long, painful life. Now, near the end, he has gone deaf, and he must rely on a caretaker coming to his farm to help with some of his basic living skills. But Lou’s life was once very different; as a younger man, he was a star hockey player for the Toronto Grizzlies, skating to victories alongside his brother Vince. However, the glory days didn’t last long enough, and a betrayal between brothers fractured their family for a quarter-century. Faced with mortality and a shortage of days, Lou finds himself slipping further and further back into his own life, facing the ghosts of his triumphs, and much more painfully, his mistakes. Has his life been for nothing? And is he as truly alone as he’s always felt?

Lemire’s first volume of GHOST STORIES, TALES FROM THE FARM, was an excellent piece of work, but nothing about it prepares you for how much better GHOST STORIES actually is. This is a dynamic, emotionally gripping read, and an incredibly mature work of art. Lou isn’t meant to be a man you necessarily root for, and you don’t; instead, he works as an example of a life that you would surely want to avoid copying. It’s a mistake-fraught existence, and almost every choice he makes is the wrong one for far too long a time. But as with all things, Lemire does allow time to begin doing some healing of his soul, even if it cannot be repaired. And showing powerful dedication to his theme, Lemire delivers a climactic two-page spread that will tug on the heartstrings of all but the most emotionally detached readers- damned near brought a tear to my eye, the bastard.

This is also a longer work than FARM, but it does have a brief, cute “crossover” moment reminding you that you’re reading stories set in the same backyard. After two books under their label, I’m ready to declare Lemire to be Top Shelf’s best find of the past few years, a worthy A-list talent deserving of a spot alongside Moore, Robinson, Kindt, and Runton on their roster. He should be a perennial seller for the company.

Marc Mason