Ghost Stories

By Jeff Lemire
112 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

Do you ever feel like you’ve already read a book before you even begin? It’s not a sense of déj? vu, but rather a sense of familiarity about the book’s story. That’s how I felt like when reading Jeff Lemire’s Ghost Stories, like I’d somehow already experienced the story, and that I was being reunited with an old friend.

Lou Lebeuf has lived a long life. These days he mostly sits around his home in rural Essex County, checked up on by a traveling nurse, drinking the alcohol that she hasn’t managed to confiscate, and remembering the old days. The old days, though, involved Lou and his brother Vince traveling to Toronto to play hockey for the Grizzlies, and their mutual attraction to the same girl. When a single mistake causes Lou and Vince’s relationship to fall apart, though, can anything put it back together?

The absolute basic story in Ghost Stories—two brothers start out best of friends until a third person becomes between them—is nothing terribly new. It’s a fairly archetypal setup involving familial relationships, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In terms of plot, it’s some of the smaller details that make it work well. I appreciated the way that the elderly Lou is able to willingly shift himself back into the memories, showing more about his character by having him retreat to his past instead of the memories just appearing randomly. Likewise, the amount of time that the rift between the brothers lasts is impressive, as is the cost that Lou pays in terms of his connection to the rest of his family. When it finally is all revealed, I found myself impressed with the decisions that Lemire made; it makes Lou a much more flawed protagonist, but it’s those faults that make him more interesting.

More importantly, though, Lemire’s storytelling can best be described as comfortable. There’s a certain ease about it that makes you happy to go along for the ride. Like the first volume in his Essex County series, the end is more than a little predictable, but you’re able to just enjoy its travel toward a conclusion. You want to read more because the characters (despite imperfections) are likable and interesting, and journeying with them is a pleasure.

The art in Ghost Stories comes across with thin, shaky lines and large splashes of ink. It’s an interesting style, one that brings to mind artists like Ted McKeever. There’s a strong internal consistency to the end result, and while traditionalists might be turned off by characters with square noses or dots for eyes, I think it comes across in an attractive way. I think what I liked the most, though, was the way that Lemire drew the settings of Ghost Stories. Both the streets of Toronto and the farmlands of Essex County come across instantly recognizable, from the rows of brick buildings to the empty spaces of Essex County. It’s the scenes of the latter where Lemire really shines, able to draw a cold winter night so well you almost to see your own breath freeze in the air as you read it.

Ghost Stories is the second in Lemire’s Essex County trilogy, but both it and the first volume (Tales from the Farm) stand on their own, sharing only locations and connections between characters (and one brief intersection of two of their stories). It’s a nice way to build a series, focusing on a region in the same way that other writers have staked out their own geographic centers. Ultimately, Ghost Stories is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, enjoying Lemire’s storytelling skills. I’m always ready for another trip to Essex County, so long as Lemire is my guide.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

3 comments to Ghost Stories

  • Brian J.

    Thanks for reviewing this book — it was by far one of my favorites this year. Maybe it’s because I just started playing hockey for the first time ever this year, but the ending just caught my breath and made me tear up a bit. Lemire’s art just kind of shakes with inky energy — it feels like it could squiggle off the page.

    Good stuff.

  • I have to echo the last comment. This book was by far one of my favorites this year, if not ever. I discovered Lemire while reading a lot of the newer people being published by Top Shelf last summer (Matt Kindt, Jeffrey Brown, Lilli Carre(sp.) etc) and his style just really drew me in. To me he’s one of the most emotionally powerful new storytellers that I’ve read in comics…and I’ve never touched a hockey puck in my life! I can’t wait for more…thanks for reviewing this.