Review: Seconds

As I may have mentioned before (here), I’ve never read Scott Pilgrim, but I’ve read both of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s standalone works. His newest graphic novel is called Seconds or, as I like to refer to it, a trippy, whirlwind, fable of wonder.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds is a lot more grown up than Lost at Sea, whose protagonist is so reserved and adrift. Lost is very much a story for young adults, while Seconds’ protagonist Katie is no kid. Seconds tells the story of the sharp-tongued, clever, and talented chef Katie. She’s nearly thirty and well established in her life as a professional chef at her successful restaurant Seconds (see what they did there?) and is in the process of opening her new, dream restaurant. However, things quickly begin to go wrong as her ex-boyfriend makes an appearance, her relationship with the new chef at Seconds begins to sour, her new restaurants becomes entrenched in contractual purgatory, and one of her waitresses is badly injured on her watch due to said “workplace canoodling.” And then Katie is faced with an out: a mushroom, a notebook, and a set of instructions reading, “1. Write your mistake. 2. Ingest one mushroom. 3. Go to sleep. 4. Wake up anew.”  Katie is given a second chance (again, see what they did there?) and is able to erase her past poor choices. From there, things quickly begin to spiral out of control as Katie embarks on a series of “revisions,” abusing what was supposed to be a one time only opportunity and has to deal with the consequences of her actions. Katie is impulsive and has the tendency to be a “hot mess,” but she’s also sweet with good intentions. She is desperately searching for the right thing to achieve her happy ending.

The novel reads as a faerie tale, beginning in what we take as typical reality and shifting into the realm of magical realism as Katie discovers the world of the house spirits, namely, her own odd, little house spirit Lis, from whom the revising mushrooms originate. The tale even has a narrator, which Katie often argues with in delightful, fourth wall demolishing fashion, giving the novel a surreal and fable-like quality, albeit with a thoroughly modern flavor. According to Vladimir Propp in his work the Morphology of the Folk Tales, these kinds of faerie stories have a series of dramatis personae, including the

1. Villain (Katie is her own worst enemy.)
2. Donor or provider (Lis, the house spirit.)
3. Helper (The adorable and shy waitress Hazel acts as Katie’s guide through this new magical world, becoming a good friend along the way.)
4. Princess/Sought-for person (In this instance, the restaurant Katie dreams and longs for/also her ex-boyfriend Max. *eye roll*)
5. Dispatcher (Also Lis)
6. Hero (Katie is also the one who has to save herself.)

The story even follows many of Propp’s thirty-one functions:

1. One of the members of a family absents himself from home. (Katie decides to leave the restaurant Seconds to start her dream restaurant, despite having a very successful four years there with people she considers family.)
2. An interdiction is addressed to the hero. (Lis tells Katie to stop it with the mushroom abuse.)
3. The interdiction is violated. (Katie fails at stopping the mushroom abuse. She fails eleven times.)
4. The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance. (Katie uses Hazel’s knowledge to find out more about Lis and what the mushrooms can do. She also explores the skeleton of her new restaurant.)
8. The villain causes harm or injury to a member of the family. (Because of Katie’s selfishness and carelessness, Hazel gets burned by hot oil.)
11. The hero leaves home. (This could be said to be Katie’s initial departure from Seconds as she attempts to build her new restaurant.)
12. The hero is tested, which prepares the way for her receiving either a magical agent or helper. (Katie’s series of follies and mishaps.)
14. The hero acquires the use of a magical agent. (Lis’s mushrooms comes into play.)
16. The hero and the villain join in direct combat. (Katie’s intentions get the best of her.)

And so on, without getting into too spoiler heavy territory.

The art itself is beautiful. O’Malley is very talented in his character creation, set design, and general layout. It is simple to read and very aesthetically pleasing with lots of warm colors and a fun, cartoonish style that meshes well with Katie’s loud personality. It is a very cinematic read filled with lots of action words like CHOMP, SMASH, WHAM, SLAM, and BANG like any good comic book. It’s funny and adventurous, but these are the small adventures that come in the daily life of a late twenty-something. Despite the bouncy quality to the action, there is still a depth and gravity to the novel that comes into play toward its close as Katie has to come to terms with the darkness associated with her indecision. It is a fun and engaging read that I would recommend.


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