Sunday, September 11, 2016
Miss Eliza's Book Review - Bryan Lee O'Malley's Seconds
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: July 15th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Four years ago Katie started a restaurant with her friends. Since then they have all moved on. Seconds feels like Katie's past now. Her future is a new restaurant, Katie's (she can live without the snarky commentary on the vanity of this name), that she will actually be part owner in versus just their culinary genius. Yet as the new restaurant is taking longer and longer to become a reality and she's still a presence at Seconds she feels frustrated being trapped between the life she's outgrown and the life she has yet to live. Then one night there's an accident at Seconds and one of the waitresses, Hazel, gets injured. Katie feels guilty and that night in a dreamlike state she finds a box with a mushroom, a notebook, and a card saying "A SECOND CHANCE AWAITS. 1. Write your mistake 2. Ingest one mushroom 3. Go to sleep 4. Wake anew."
Katie follows the instructions and awakes in the morning to find that Hazel's accident never happened. Confused Katie befriends Hazel and learns that perhaps Seconds has a House Spirit, a being protecting their restaurant and willing to help Katie fix Hazel's accident. This is well and good, as long as the house spirit is happy then Seconds is happy. Only Katie happens to find more mushrooms... what was to be a one time gift of the House Spirit is used by Katie to start fixing all the problems she feels are plaguing her life. The House Spirit tries to stop her, but things start to spiral out of control the more Katie tries to fix her life. Perhaps it would have been better if she had never started on this path, but it's too late to stop now.
Bryan Lee O'Malley has this surreal dreamlike quality to his stories that make you feel that you might be inhabiting the world of a video game or some other leftover hiding place from your childhood. He connects with my generation so well because he taps into our cultural zeitgeist of angst and nostalgia, where a heroine with the hair of Sonic the Hedgehog isn't just cool, but that we embrace her. The meta narrative technique of having Katie snarkily comment on what the omniscient narrator is saying feeds into the my sarcastic and disillusioned generation that isn't quite generation X or Y, being forgotten by the roadside when they started having a need to generationally label us.
But what I connected to so much is this idea of seconds, of a do-over. People of my age are still in a time of flux, they are on a path but they aren't sure it's the right one, they don't know if this will be their life. They keep waiting for their life to start not realizing that while you're waiting it's actually happening, you are missing your life because of the illusory belief that someone will tell you when it's actually begun. I know I keep hoping that instead of being forced to grow up that there will miraculously appear an easy way out, a way to pave the path in front of me and save me blood, sweat, and tears. Their might be some truth in the thought that my generation feels entitled to a life of ease, a life that helps and doesn't hider your path, that we would be willing to take whatever might ease our journey, but I think this is more rooted in the fear we all have of growing up.
And isn't the childlike dream that still lives in us the idea that whatever goes wrong it will be fixed for us? Here it might be a magic mushroom, but in our past it was our parents. Who wouldn't want a chance at a do-over? A chance to tweak one thing in our lives? A chance to take a different path? It's not surprising that Katie falls into the bad habit of re-writing what she didn't want to happen. If you had a bucket full of mushrooms and no apparent consequences, wouldn't you jump at a second chance? It's the final realization that their is no easy way out, their is no shortcut, no warps, no way to get through life then by living it that is the final step in growing up. Katie might have needed a little more of a push to learn this, but haven't we all at some time?
What I feel elevates this book beyond the angst and eighties nostalgia of Bryan Lee O'Malley's previous works is the, not mystical, but the folkloric side to the story. The House Spirit, or Household Deity of Lis, grounds the story in the realm of fairy tales versus 8-bit console entertainment. This makes Seconds feel more of a fable, a coming of age tale then Bryan's previous ventures. Even the Brothers Grimm wrote about these family guardians, these protectors of home and hearth.
In fact, the more I think about it, growing up is not just about leaving childish ideas behind and knowing that their is no easy answer, but in finding your place in the word, finding where you belong, finding your home. While some might just write off a graphic novel as cartoons, which is the biggest mistake I think anyone could make, I at least implore you to look beyond the girl with the Sonic the Hedgehog hair on the cover and read between the covers to find a magical coming of age story full of wit, wonder, and life lessons that all of us could be reminded of.