Review: Roughneck by Jeff Lemire

9781501160998Poignant and harrowing, Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel Roughneck is a deeply moving and beautifully illustrated story about family, heritage, and breaking a family’s cycle of violence and abuse.

Derek Oullette’s glory days are a distant speck in the rear-view mirror. His hockey career – which prospered on his reputation as a bruiser – ended a decade earlier following a ferocious incident on the ice. Since then he’s lived off his reputation in the remote northern community where he grew up – the fictional Pimitamon – drinking too much, fighting anybody who crosses him. Basically, he is his father reincarnated, prone to the same lapses into violence, one misstep away from prison.

Derek’s sister, Beth, has her own demons. A drug addict, tormented by an abusive ex-boyfriend, when she shows up on Derek’s doorstep, the siblings flee to a secluded hunting cabin in the woods, living off the land as they reconnect and face up to the painful secrets of their past and their Cree heritage, to find their future. But as Beth’s ex-boyfriend closes in, he threatens to unravel the hard work the siblings have put into placating their tumultuous lives, and hoisting them back into the cycle of self-destruction.

How does someone whose life is so imbued in violence – as Derek’s was, professionally – cope when the game forces them out into the real world, where there’s no funnel for that pent-up rage? Roughneck is about the cyclical nature of violence and abuse, and the quest for redemption, which touches on the history of exploitation faced by the Indigenous people of Canada without getting bogged down in the minutiae. It’s a book that validates Jeff Lemire as one of Canada’s greatest living storytellers, in any medium, and can stand proudly beside his magnum opus, Essex County. This is one of the best graphic novels of the year. Heck, it’s one of my favourite stories of the year.

ISBN: 9781501160998
Format: Hardback (254mm x 184mm x 30mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United States

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