Katie wakes up to an odd glow. Her tiny upstairs apartment has changed appearance – it’s all bare and wooden. Lis squats on Katie’s dresser and tells her not to forget. Lis dives into the top drawer. The glow fades. Katie slithers from her bed and examines the drawer. It’s empty. Not even a sock is inside. Katie wakes up remembering none of this.
And that’s all before the first chapter in Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new standalone graphic novel Seconds. Restaurant owner Katie seemingly has got everything she needs in life – the best restaurant in town as well as a new one on the way. But when her ex comes back into her life and behind-the-scenes drama escalates in the kitchen, all she wants is to fix the problems in her life.
What luck then, that with the help of a mushroom, a notepad, and set of instructions, she manages to fix these problems. All goes well until Katie’s quest to deconstruct her troubled past for a perfect future leaves her destroying all she has and totally alone. Only the mousy waitress Hazel, with her knowledge of ‘house spirits’ can help her out of the many messes she creates.
The story itself radiates hot-headed humour, charm and builds on its poignancy throughout before climaxing with a surprisingly feather-soft conclusion. It’s a wonderfully told tale that falls somewhere between being both gentle and sharp and the manga-esque artwork, produced with assistance from cartoonist Jason Fischer, colourist Nathan Fairbairn, and cartoonist Dustin Harbin, is simply huggable. Rarely have endearingly disproportionate eyes been used so effectively than they have here. The colours appear carefully selected and slimmed down to a mixture of red, black, orange and blue with dashes of others in between, which lend a flavour of immediacy to the story.
The characters are immensely diverse, whether it’s the shy Hazel, the swarve ex-boyfriend Max, or the temperamental master chef Andrew, the wrongs that Katie rights throughout the novel all involve these people. This has the effect of giving the story immense scope, even when much of it takes place within Katie’s restaurant Seconds. Indeed, Katie can only change the past within Seconds itself.
This is where much of Seconds’ perfection lies – the fusion of the intimate and the epic (without sounding as pretentious as possible). It’s that feeling many of us go through at a certain age, when in our minds we’re trying to create and rule over our perfect worlds, when in reality this want of achievement can boil down to a far more intimate reality.
And above all else, the story bears a defiant sense of relatable emotions. Katie embodies the young go-getter who strives for her very own perfect little world – the dreams she has of building her new restaurant displays this. She experiences what many of us go through when were at the stage of life she’s in. The delightful oddity of the novel emphasizes this state of mind more and more as you read on. Its humour is delightful as well, whether it’s Katie melting over Max or the various confrontations between her and Lis. The humour of Seconds, fused with its artwork, pacing, characters and story-telling makes it an fantastically enjoyable piece of quirky fiction.
After reading Seconds, you’ll be left wondering whether it’s more sublime than it is surreal, or the other way round.
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