The Collected Essex County

The Collected Essex County - Jeff Lemire The interweaving of the multiple storylines in the collected Essex County is particularly satisfying and that swells to eclipse some of the loneliness of individual characters as the work develops.

But it’s true that Lester’s story in the opening volume is characterized by a sense of disconnect. Whether he is sitting on the floor of the shed with only the chickens for company, pecking feed out of his hand, or whether he’s peering out of the frames in the company of another person (his Uncle Ken, perhaps), Lester seems completely alone and lonely.

Which makes sense. Lester has lost his mother to cancer recently and moved in with his Uncle Ken, who doesn’t have children and seems at a loss himself, not only mourning his sister’s death, but also having a solitary existence, accustomed to days filled with farming and his evenings shared with the hockey game on the TV.

Many of the frames are filled with silhouettes. A small figure (usually Lester’s), silhouetted on a bridge or against a backdrop of snow (and this is Canadian country snow, where the flakes are like bits of gravel, not granules of sugar snow) or the outlines of a grain elevator. People are slight against the landscape.

But many of the frames are filled completely with the face of a single figure. And the diverse cast of characters is definitely at the heart of the Essex County tales. As the first volume ends, readers seem to be leaving Lester behind, but there is still much more to tell.

Time moves quickly in these tales, from the first volume’s overtly seasonal structure, and echoes of these shifts haunt the volumes. Jeff Lemire does this skillfully and poignantly and the overlap between the volumes adds to the sense of a rush of years, the emphasis on shared human experiences over time.

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