Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 217 (9/8) -- The Nobody by Jeff Lemire

In Jeff Lemire's work, anything can happen -- but it has to happen in a backward little rural town in Ontario. Now, I'll be honest: The Nobody doesn't say explicitly anywhere that the village of Large Mouth is in Ontario, or even in Canada -- but it is cold and small and northerly, on a lake somewhere, and I get the sneaking suspicion that all of the locals take a keen interest in hockey.

Into Large Mouth one day comes a secretive man who calls himself John Griffen, who holes up in the local motel for long stretches without venturing outside at all. Oh, and he's completely covered in bandages, which causes some talk among the locals -- particularly the local mean, suspicious drunk. (There's one in every town; this one is named Teddy Henfrey, and he keeps trying to find out the truth about Griffen, because no one that secretive could possibly be up to anything on the level.)

This all takes place, for no obvious in-story reason, in 1994, and is narrated by Vickie, at the time the sixteen-year-old daughter of the man who runs the local diner/restaurant. She's desperate to get out of Large Mouth in the worst way -- like, as Lemire unsubtly has it, her mother did just a few years ago -- and quickly becomes just as obsessed with Griffen as Henfrey is, though Vickie has a more pleasant way of showing it. So she befriends him, and she is soon the closest thing to a friend he has in this town -- he still spends nearly all of his time alone in his hotel room, working steadily at what he says is "chemistry."

Any genre-savvy reader will have already realized what a bandage-wrapped man named Griffen must be, and Lemire plays fair -- Griffen may not be this man's real name, but he certainly has problems with visibility. (Of course, that's also already clear -- why else would he have fled from what he says is an important job as a professor in Chicago to come to a motel in a tiny village?)

This is Griffen's story, though it's told by Vickie, and Lemire follows his model reasonably faithfully. Strangely, given the frame story and Vickie's narration, Griffen's story doesn't lead to anything further in her life -- she's the window through which we see Griffen, but nothing more, which is surprising, given how visible and central she is in this book, and how her own problems and concerns are the twins and opposites of Griffen's. As usual with Lemire, the foreground action is set against a closely-observed look at small-town life -- and, also as usual, his characters have some very interesting facial features (there's one particular Lemire nose that looks like a man has had a box bolted onto the front of his face). He doesn't do enough with Vickie, in this story, and this doesn't look like the first in a sequence of stories about her -- if it is, though, then it would make more sense to keep her enigmatic here.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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