This month’s TBR Challenge theme is “Something Different,” and that did pose a challenge for me. I like the constraints of the themes because I’m less overwhelmed when choosing from the vastness of my TBR, but “something different” is very open. Plus I was just getting my reading mojo back after mountains of end-of-term grading, and I had brand new books and library books I wanted to get to that didn’t count as “TBR.” Having dithered over what to pick so long that I was almost out of time, I grabbed Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds off my bedside bookshelf, figuring it would go fast. I rarely read comics or graphic novels so it counts as “different.”
Seconds is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s second work, after the Scott Pilgrim series (which I have not read); Seconds is also the name of the restaurant 29-year-old chef Katie is trying to leave so she can open her own place. Because construction on it is (typically) running over time and over budget, she’s currently stuck in limbo. This is a Groundhog Day story in which magic mushrooms give Katie second chances to fix her mistakes and try to make her life perfect, an effort that goes increasingly wrong (although it turns out OK–just not perfect!). The book was in my TBR because my husband and daughter, both Scott Pilgrim fans, read it and passed it on to me.
This book didn’t wow me, but I think that’s partly my fault. (I am going to commit the cardinal sin of writing about a comic without including pictures because I am still lazy and in a hurry, but do check out these more thoughtful, informed, and positive reviews by Paddy Johnston at Comics Grid and Ben Travis in the Telegraph, which will give you a taste of the art). While you can read comics fast, if you do, you’re likely not paying attention to the complexities of the images and their interplay with the text, and thus not getting the most out of your reading. I expect that was true of mine.
Nevertheless, while Seconds was kind of fun, it was also kind of shallow and obvious. I think I might be too old for it. Katie’s impatience to move on with her life and reach her dreams, her desire to control and fix everything and make it perfect, felt rather immature. It didn’t help that Katie is drawn as shorter and stockier, more childlike in appearance, than many of the other characters, including her boyfriend Max and new friend Hazel.
There’s also a rather obvious “lesson” here. To be fair, the book is aware of and pokes fun at the obviousness. At the end, Katie is trying to explain her epiphany to her former boss: “There are things we can’t change, and we just have to accept that. And maybe that’s some kind of grace.” And he rolls his eyes and points at a copy of the serenity prayer on the wall behind him: “You’ve been staring at this thing every day for three years.” Maybe that’s the point: certain lessons may be commonplace, but we all have to learn their grace for ourselves, through our own errors, no matter how hard our mothers try to save us from pain by giving us the benefit of their wisdom. But I already knew that, too.
I think my favorite parts were the meta-fictional moments where Katie talks back to the narrator’s attempts to define her, moments that used visual narrative to good effect. And some of the images are really lovely, like the tree that represents all the worlds Katie’s different choices create. Right from the opening epigraphs (one from Italo Calvino, one from Fleetwood Mac), O’Malley shows how high and mass culture references meet in post-modernism. I wished those elements had been explored more fully–or maybe I just read it too fast.