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Roughneck

Review

Roughneck

ROUGHNECK is one of those rare books that feels right when you pick it up, even if you know nothing about the story or its author. It’s an original graphic novel by veteran scribe/artist Jeff Lemire, who has written a compelling, violent, sad, redeeming and oh-so-realistic story that will make your teeth hurt.

Derek Ouelette is a one-time star hockey player from Pimitamon, a tiny village in the far northern reaches of Canada. Derek has no illusions about his place in the universe; he was, in his own words, a thug, a tough guy whose reputation as a dangerous and dirty player preceded him in every game. ROUGHNECK opens a decade following the conclusion of his career --- an ending that did not occur by choice --- and finds his life on a wash-rinse-repeat mode of working as a short order cook by day, drinking (and occasionally brawling) by night, and sleeping things off at the local hockey arena in the janitor’s office. Derek has fallen so far down that the only thing between him and rock bottom is the kindness bestowed upon him by Jeff, the local sheriff, who lets his transgressions slide far too often; Al, who takes care of the hockey arena; and Gerry, the bartender who frequently has to cut him off, but only after the damage is done.

"...a compelling, violent, sad, redeeming and oh-so-realistic story that will make your teeth hurt.... You’ll read all night to reach the end and be sorry that the book isn’t twice as long."

The narrative alternates between the past and the present, as vignettes dropped into the main dialogue document snippets of Derek’s childhood as well as his fall from grace as an adult. The unrelenting grimness of the story is increased when Beth, Derek’s long-lost sister, suddenly appears in Pimitamon, having left her abusive boyfriend but carrying a drug addiction on her back, and more. Barely able to fend for himself, Derek takes his sister in to the extent possible and with Al’s help brings her to a remote hunting camp where the siblings explore, often painfully, where they have been and, worse, their disastrous childhoods. Meanwhile, Beth’s ex is slowly but surely following her trail, bent on getting her back or gaining revenge for her rejection of him. There is only one way the story can end. Or so it seems.

The format of ROUGHNECK is perfect for the tale that’s being told. I don’t think this would’ve worked --- or at least worked as well --- as a six- or eight-issue comic, doled out over the course of several months. It’s a story to be told all at once. Let’s not forget Lemire’s artwork, which is cold, stark, plain and simple, with some roughness around the edges. His sketched-out lines aren’t especially detailed but tell ever so much, while the variations in panel size and shape --- from small to full page and back again --- keep the reader off-balance.

You’ll read all night to reach the end and be sorry that the book isn’t twice as long. But that’s the joy of ownership. You can read it again. And again. I strongly recommend you do just that.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 21, 2017

Roughneck
by Jeff Lemire

  • Publication Date: April 18, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Graphic Novel
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • ISBN-10: 1501160990
  • ISBN-13: 9781501160998