Review: ‘The Country Nurse’ by Jeff Lemire
Essex County Vol. 3: The Country Nurse
By Jeff Lemire
Top Shelf, October 2008, $9.95
The finale of the “[[[Essex County]]]” trilogy – which will be available in October, so start saving your pennies now – draws together the first two graphic novels in the series, but at the expense of not being as coherent as a story itself. It has two main plot threads – one set in the modern day, following the nurse of the title, and one in 1917.
The modern plot is similar to the frame story of the second volume, Ghost Stories – Anne Quenneville travels around this fictionalized corner of Ontario, Canada on her rounds one day, looking in on her usual patients and giving us some callbacks to those first two stories. (The kid Lester has given up his cape and mask; ex-hockey player Lou is toast.) It does pull together all of the strands of “Essex County” neatly and well, but that’s pretty much all it’s doing; there isn’t much in the way of events, just Anne meeting people we already know or will soon come to recognize.
The other plot starts off about young Lawrence Lebeuf, a twelve-year-old orphan at an isolated orphanage deep in the woods. (Was it really common to have orphanages out in the middle of nowhere, staffed only by a nun and a caretaker? I guess it exemplifies “out of sight, out of mind.”) The orphanage is run by Sister Margaret, and the caretaker is a scruffy man named Charles Gerrard. Lawrence is something of a protégé of Charles’s; he’s the oldest of the orphans and Charles talks to him quite a bit about what he should do when he soon leaves the orphanage.
(This also leads to one of the few jarringly false steps in the book – Charles asks if Lawrence will go east, “to Essex County,” and, later, all of the kids have to go “to Essex County,” which turns out to be a single settlement. That doesn’t fit my mental picture of a county, in any country I know, or the way the word “county” has ever been used. It feels like Lemire is stretching to reinforce his theme, but it calls attention to itself and not in a good way.)
If you’ve read Lemire’s other books, you know that plans don’t generally get executed, that things go wrong, very badly wrong, and everything goes to hell. So it happens in 1917 – though the modern story is more about putting everything back together again. It doesn’t all happen by the last page, but there’s a strong sense that little Lester may be hearing his own version of these stories right after the end.
In five years or so, when someone collects the massive single-volume Essex County compendium, [[[The Country Nurse]]] will make an excellent final chapter. As a standalone graphic novel, though, it suffers a bit from its clear purpose as the wrap-up for two other books. It’s 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.
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.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.