Friday, May 14, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 100 (5/14) -- Mercury by Hope Larson

If the literary world had required moves the way gymnastics does, the "two stories related by theme but separated in time" would be the equivalent of a backwards acrobatic element -- difficult, and not to be attempted by an amateur, but a flourish eventually expected of any serious professional. With Mercury, Hope Larson shows that she's as adept as anyone, and sticks the landing.

The two stories here are separated in time but nearly identical in place -- young farmgirl Josey Fraser is fascinated by the possibly roguish Asa Curry in French Hill, Nova Scotia (in the Canadian Maritimes) at the end of the summer of 1859; while her distant relative Tara Fraser lives a hundred and fifty years later in nearby Arduss with her Uncle Ray and family after a fire destroyed the French Hill house that Josey knew. Josey's story is the more immediately dramatic of the two -- her mother clearly fears that Asa intends to seduce her, and suspects Asa has other bad intentions as well. (And Josey has the usual reaction of a young woman with an admiring, attractive young man on one side and a stern, forbidding mother on the other.) Tara, on the other hand, has purely modern, relationship problems: she's a new student in school in Grade 10, she looks just like a boy in her class, all of her clothes and things were destroyed in the fire, and her divorced mother wants to drag her away from the little stability she has off far into the West.

The two stories twist around each other like vines, as Asa gives a strange gold-seeking necklace to Josey, which survives to the modern day, and the gold that Asa and Josey's father search for in 1859 comes to be sought in 2009 as well. Each story is told fully, and each story is told complete, but Mercury is the combination of those two stories (and some unexpected elements, near the end) to make a single story that encompasses both Josie and Tara.

Mercury is even more accomplished and mature than Larson's last book Chiggers (which had a single story about somewhat younger girls, and which I reviewed for ComicMix late in 2008) -- her art is still as expressive and cleanly defined, and her writing is finding new depths of subtlety and connection. It may be published outside the usual comics world -- from a major New York house, and aimed at teenagers -- but it's one of the major graphic novels of 2010 so far, and could easily be the best book of the year.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Josh Ritter - Girl in the War (Live in London)
via FoxyTunes

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