The first book I tackled in this month's What Should Kester Read? was Jeff Lemire's Essex County. Like last month's selections; Sara's five picks for November are all graphic novels. Unlike last month's selections, Sara's five picks are less familiar to me, none more so than Essex County. I went in with no sense of whether this would be funny, gory, mysterious, or what.
What is was was as honest and heartfelt a tale as I have read in some time. I'm not sure why this graphic novel doesn't get more attention (at least from the folks I'm in conversation with), because it's a reminder that a graphic novel can be just as literary and rich and rewarding as standard novels. It was sad without being maudlin, it was sincere without being sanguine. It was what I expect Blankets to be when I read it for the first time, later this month. It was a truly human story. It was proof that real doesn't equal cynical or jaded. It's a beautiful piece of work.
And that's just the story and the writing of it. The art is the other element and it is perfect. Sparse and simple and subdued. Much of it feels like pencil sketches lovingly rendered, but never "fixed." Pages go by without a word being written, a reminder that the great storytellers know when to show instead of tell.
In case you missed it, I loved this book. I started with it, figuring that it would be nothing special and I'd just get it out of the way. Now I worry that the rest of the month won't measure up. I was saving Blankets for last, sure that it would be my favorite. Essex County makes me far less sure.