By Bryan Lee O’Malley
336 pages, $25
By Christopher Schobert
NEWS BOOK REVIEWER
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel “Seconds” is, story-wise, “Groundhog Day” directed by Spike Jonze starring Emma Stone with songs by Regina Spektor. In other words, it is a story of do-overs and second (third, fourth, fifth, etc.) chances told with a tart-tongued point of view.
It is also undeniably brilliant. O’Malley is the artist and author of the beloved “Scott Pilgrim” series, and like that series and the Edgar Wright-helmed cult classic film it inspired, “Seconds” is wonderfully entertaining but also emotionally involving.
Here is an epic graphic novel – more than 300 pages – that can be read in one sitting. That is not a sign of simplicity. Rather, it is an indication that this is an involving, difficult-to-put-down creation.
The protagonist of “Seconds” is Katie, a young chef who is running a popular restaurant, and is on the verge of opening another. In Katie, O’Malley has created a complex, multitextured character, the kind rarely seen in mainstream cinema.
Katie is smart, sour and unsure of just about every aspect of her life. She is, then, a completely believable person in a relatively realistic milieu.
“Katie was stressed out,” reads the first line in “Seconds.” Katie herself quickly adds, however, “I’m perfectly fine.” In many ways, she is. Her restaurant, Seconds, is popular and ambitious. But four years after opening, “everyone around her seemed infinitely younger.” Living above Seconds does not help.
So Katie was ready to move on with a new establishment at a new location. But these are major life changes, and her love life is also in tatters. Katie still pines for her ex-boyfriend Max, and she is having an on-again, off-again “thing” with young chef Andrew.
There is also the matter of the young, female “House Spirit” that haunts her each night, the mysterious box containing a mushroom, a note card that reads “A SECOND CHANCE AWAITS” and features a series of instructions, and a notebook labeled “MY MISTAKES.”
Soon, and with the help of gorgeous, good-natured waitress Hazel, Katie discovers that she has the ability to change the universe. The mushrooms (she discovers more) and the notebook are her ticket to a series of large-scale re-dos.
But each attempt makes the House Spirit a bit angrier, and every do-over – from reuniting with Max to picking a new location for the restaurant – features unintended consequences. And they are mostly not good.
The mushroom pile grows smaller and smaller, and it is up to Katie to discover what she really wants, and how to get it. This process is funny, sad and full of surprises. Much of this is due to Katie herself, as memorable a character as any in O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” series.
“Seconds” is more than simply above-average rom-com material. It is a uniquely post-millennial myth centered on a joy and scourge of 20- and 30-something life: the seemingly limitless lifestyle options available to those of moderate means.
For Katie, satisfaction is a vague notion hijacked by a constant state of unease. That’s why the ability to make decisions for the second time is at first so welcome. As Katie’s mushroom intake increases and her notebook becomes more filled, O’Malley’s visuals become darker, and more poetically gorgeous. As an artist, the Canadian artist marries anime style with cutting humor and wistful optimism. That’s a hard tone to pull off, but as he did with “Scott Pilgrim,” O’Malley nails it again.
In Katie, Bryan Lee O’Malley has conjured up this year’s most likable and identifiable heroine, and with “Seconds,” he has captured an entire generation’s desire to hit rewind, and play again. The result is an angst-fueled masterpiece.
Christopher Schobert is a frequent News contributing reviewer of films and books.