My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For reasons undefined, Essex County is one of the last titles on my Lemire read-through, despite the fact that it is one of his most famous. Now, having finished it, I can see why it is one of his top credits, even in the face of an expansive body of work.
Quietly heartbreaking, occasionally surreal, and woven through with raw humanity, Essex County weaves a tapestry of interconnected lives and the choices that ripple through generations. On the surface, it is textured realism, but throughout, Lemire blends memory, fantasy, and imagination together to create a small-town epic about people just trying to make the best of the lives they’ve been given.
Lemire’s characters are not larger than life–they feel as real and relatable as the person sitting next to you. Through their quiet struggles, their moments of desperation and pain, the occasional triumphs and tender encounters–we walk with them along the years, seeing where they’ve been and where they hope still to go. There is tragedy in the way that so much is stacked against them and so many dreams will remain unfulfilled, but Lemire’s writing never gives way to despair. There is always hope for a better tomorrow, even if it’s only in the beauty of a single moment.
Essex County, like so much of Lemire’s writing, plunges deep to the heart of what it means to be human and lays those feeling bare on the page. In carefully crafting each moment that he presents–and in choosing which moments to leave to the reader’s imagination–Lemire is creating work that is a strong example of what graphic novels, literature, and art as a whole can do for us.
And it is a thing of beauty.