Roughneck

Jeff Lemire

Gallery 13 Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), 2017

Jeff Lemire returns to the Canadian setting of his early masterpiece Essex County with Roughneck, a story that initially focuses on retired (and disgraced) hockey star Derek Ouellette. Oullette is famous for his fights on the ice--he describes himself as a thug--and it was an especially brutal attack that ended his hockey career. So he returned to his remote Northern home town of Pimitamon ("the Pit"), where he drinks too much and fights anyone who crosses him.

Meanwhile his estranged sister Beth shows up, on the run from an abusive boyfriend. It's a tense reunion, but flashbacks soon reveal a history of abuse in the family. Between Derek's recent violent outbursts and Beth's drug addiction, it seems best to relocate to a secluded hunting camp in the woods. There the siblings slowly reconnect with themselves and their shared family history, as well as their Cree heritage.

Beth confronts her father, achieving closure there. And Derek confronts the boyfriend (who has followed her to Pimitamon). His surprising actions seem to indicate a conclusion to the family history of violence: an unexpected response from a character who seemed incapable of learning anything. Beth's embrace of her Cree background at the end of the story is also unexpected, but it feels like a sudden, unprepared development.

Lemire has a tendency to reuse character designs. Derek's appearance is initially very similar to Jeppard in the Vertigo series Sweet Tooth, although he soon establishes himself as a different character. The Netgalley proof I got for review was in black and white rather than the full color of the final book. While it was certainly a different reading experience, the power of the storytelling shone through.

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I had pre-ordered this long ago, and so it was a nice surprise when it showed up in the mail a couple weeks ago. I still haven't read it, but it looks like what I would expect--hockey and depressed people!

Yeah, that's about right. Fun! ;)

Mark, have you read The Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire? It's the same kind of thing, except without the hockey. But it is a true story.

No, never even heard of it before. I'll have to look out for it.

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