Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Publisher: Ballantine Books on July 1, 2014
Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one.Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:
1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. She’s also got a dresser drawer full of magical mushrooms—and an irresistible urge to make her life not just good, but perfect. Too bad it’s against the rules. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions.
SECONDS by Bryan Lee O’Malley is probably one of the most original graphic novels I’ve ever read, at least in terms of plot. This isn’t exactly surprising, given that O’Malley is the creative powerhouse behind the much-loved Scott Pilgrim series. But unfortunately, the creativity of this story wasn’t enough to make up for a supremely frustrating protagonist.
At 29, Katie is transitioning from her position as executive chef at the popular restaurant Seconds into her new role as restaurant owner. Rather than buying out Seconds, she has decided to forge ahead and open a new restaurant, a project that is entirely hers. But things are not going as planned and Katie is getting desperate. Enter the house spirit of Seconds, a little elven creature named Lis who promises Katie a redo. She gets one second chance to get things right, to be happier. Because lying prone on the floor angsting about your life everyday? Not a great way to live.
Of course, Katie isn’t satisfied with her redo and ignores Lis’s warnings that you only get one second chance. If Katie can just keep going back, she won’t have to deal with the consequences of her behaviour. She won’t need to worry about her restaurant going over-budget, or her failed relationships, or the waitress who gets injured on the job. But actions are meant to have consequences, and Katie can’t outrun them forever…
O’Malley writes SECONDS in what I’d call a ‘fantasy lite’ style: he includes fantastical elements that are necessary to drive the plot forward but do little to flesh out the world. Aside from Lis and her vague sort of magic, there is very little that sets Katie’s world apart from our own. This isn’t a criticism per se, since I don’t think that SECONDS would have benefitted from more world building. At its core the story is a character study, an examination of Katie and her choices.
Maybe that’s why I had a hard time getting into this one, since the biggest issue that I had with SECONDS was Katie herself. She is unbearably self-absorbed to the exclusion of all else; it’s not uncommon for her to be completely unaware that she has offended someone or hurt their feelings, failing even to notice that her friends are out of sorts. But then again, calling them her friends isn’t entirely accurate. Katie doesn’t really have friends, she has employees – and that’s precisely the problem.
The only reason that Katie begins to see her employees as people who have value outside their contribution to Seconds is because she needs them to help her make things right again. Katie may be a brilliant chef, but she’s kind of an idiot when it comes to real life. I mean, who would have thought that breaking Lis’s “one second chance” rule would have dire consequences? Honestly. It’s like Katie’s never read a book in her life.
While it starts out as a fairly light-hearted examination of the trials and tribulations of making “real world” adult decisions, SECONDS is actually a surprisingly dark tale. The story takes a grim turn towards the conclusion, as Katie must finally deal with the consequences of…well, never having to deal with consequences. The final confrontation in SECONDS isn’t between Katie and some great villain, but between Katie and herself. She combats her selfishness and her perfectionism, leading to a satisfying if overly tidy conclusion.