Ghost Stories by Jeff Lemire

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Ghost Stories
By Jeff Lemire
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Jeff LemireDon’t expect the Essex County tourist board to come knocking down Jeff Lemire’s door any time soon. That’s not to say that Southwestern Ontario’s native son is without the sort of raw talent that would surely make his home proud, but rather that all of the melancholy that the artist managed to cram into Tales From the Farm, the first volume in his Essex County trilogy comes nowhere near the sheer unadulterated heartbreak he harnesses for the duration of part two. Lemire paints the sorts of pictures of extreme isolation a geographical location inexorably linked to images of agricultural sprawl and cold climates would no doubt be inclined to distance itself from.

Tales from the Farm
explored these themes in early life, the story of a 10-year-old recently orphaned boy growing up on a farm, actively distancing himself from his uncle, who serves as his only source of constant companionship. Ghost Stories finds us at the other end of the extreme, and old man, who, for a brief moment, seemed to have everything going for him, through life as a semi-professional hockey player and a close connection with a much-loved brother, but has since, through various turns of events, effectively burned every last bridge which might have presented some hope for the future.

Like its predecessor, Ghost Stories opens on a farm, but rather than panning down into the brief imaginary flight of fancy of a young protagonist, we open on the image of a withered old man, alone and confused on the front porch of a battered old farm house. Like Lester in Farm, Ghost Stories’ protagonist, Lou, opens the book with his mind elsewhere, but rather than having been carried away by his youthful imagination, Lou suffers from the symptoms of memory loss that follow us with age.

Whether his are the symptoms that come with a diagnosable physical ailment, or simply the forced forgettings of a life full of missed opportunities and misfortune, it’s hard to say. Either way, his hazy memory haunts his recollections, which serve as the narrative arch of the story.

Though Ghost Stories is only the second book in a trilogy, Lemire makes it clear towards the end that it should be regarding as something of a bookend to its predecessor, through one particularly memorable moment, trudging through thick wintry powder, which, for a brief moment, ties it into the open ending of the first book. Addressing a young masked stranger, familiar, at least to the reader, Lou announces that he is, “going home,” having braved the loss of everything he ever held dear.

It’s a hell of a downer, shakily held together by Lemire’s sparse, wavy lines. He leaves us ultimately with, what can perhaps be regarding as something of a briefly happy ending, but is more likely a slipping into the fantasy that opened up its predecessor. Where Tales from the Farm ended in a lesson about the importance of embracing our realities, Ghost Stories seems to insist that, sometimes in the end, fantasy can prove our last refuge in the search for life’s happy moments.

In the end, Lemire makes no concessions as far as the melancholy that drives his characters lives, and that’s a large part of what makes his storytelling so powerful.

–Brian Heater

31 Comments to “Ghost Stories by Jeff Lemire”

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