Review: ‘Ghost Stories’ by Jeff Lemire
Lemire is in the middle of an impressive thematically-related trilogy of stories about a rural bit of Ontario, Canada – the first book was Tales from the Farm, in early 2007, and the third, [[[The Country Nurse]]], will be along in October of this year. [[[Ghost Stories]]] is the middle book, but it’s a completely independent story – you don’t need to know anything about Tales to read it.
Ghost Stories: Essex County, Vol. 2
By Jeff Lemire
Top Shelf, September 2007, $14.95
Lou Lebeuf is an old, alcoholic, deaf man, living alone on the farm that was his younger brother’s and their father’s before him. He’s also either going senile or just doesn’t care about his current life – and who would? there’s not much to it – so he ignores his new home-care nurse and instead wanders through the memories of his younger days. At first he remembers growing up on that farm, playing hockey with his younger, bigger brother Vince, but he soon moves into the main plot of Ghost Stories.
Lou came up to Toronto to play semi-pro hockey for the Grizzlies around 1950, and Vince followed him up in 1951 — Lou was a solid, smart player, but Vince was a giant bull of a man, dominating the ice once he got angry enough. But, unfortunately for both of them, accompanying Vince on that trip in 1951 was his fiancee, Beth Morgan. Lou was strongly attracted to Beth, and, once — the night after the Grizzlies made the playoffs that March — Lou and Beth had quick, secret sex on a rooftop.
Within a month, the Grizzlies’ season was over, Vince was marrying a pregnant Beth back on the farm, and Lou was alone in Toronto again. Early the next fall, Lou got a picture of his new niece, Mary. And, at about the same time, an injury ended his hockey career forever.
Ghost Stories goes on from there to cover the rest of Lou Lebeuf’s life, but it doesn’t get any happier than that. Lou lived in Toronto for a long, long time, doing not much of anything, and then, after he got old and Mary had time to grow up, more of that horrible Lebeuf luck came around.
Lemire’s art is solid throughout, with a sketchy looseness and an individual approach to human faces. His people are only very rarely attractive, but they’re all very obviously Lemire characters. His style also gives a dreary, cluttered background to the story — the rooms and exteriors are no more attractive or happy than the people.
So Lou Lebeuf lost everything he’d ever cared about in one short season — a hockey career, his family, the only girl we see him ever being interested in. It doesn’t seem quite that melodramatic and ridiculous in the middle of the story, though it does seem overwrought afterward, thinking about it. But Lemire’s world in Ghost Stories is one of those story-settings in which nothing ever can go right — everyone dies, sooner rather than later, and all hopes and dreams die nasty, protracted deaths. I can’t quite recommend Ghost Stories: it’s technically excellent, and has a real emotional power, but its relentless dreariness turns into something almost like a parody of soap opera by the end. It’s just hard to believe that all of these bad things could happen to one family, or that Lou’s life would become so tedious and airless after one run of bad luck. But, if you’re a huge Chris Ware fan, Jeff Lemire might be just who you’re looking for.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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