My 18-year daughter and 14-year-old son are somewhat obsessed with Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. Not only did I have to buy all the graphic novels in the series, but have had to undergo watching the movie starring Michael Cera innumerable times on the television. I admit I don’t get Scott Pilgrim and perhaps it is a generational thing. I don’t get Twenty One Pilots or Arctic Monkeys, but neither do my children understand my love for Samurai Gourmet. So, during a recent trip to a local comic book store, I was less than excited to be forced into buying O’Malley’s Seconds for them.
Predictably, when we got home they devoured the book. It is a heavy, hardcover weighing in at 321 pages. Yet, it seems within, ahem, seconds, the book was finished. Ben, who would make a Spartan seem like a chatterbox, gave it his seal of approval when he grunted that it was “good.” Erika immediately watched Scott Pilgrim, again.
Ok, I figured with such rave reviews that I should at least glance through this new work. I didn’t expect much, but, I was wrong. Where I found Scott Pilgrim to be an unreadable puerile adolescent fantasy, Seconds was a more mature and engaging work. In fact, I read it in one sitting.
O’Malley takes the worn out old trope of being able to re-live a day to fix all your mistakes. This is a game which we all play. This “what if I had done something different” game then takes us down these fantasy corridors of a better and brighter present.
The most famous example of this, of course, is Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. But, in that movie, the self-centered Phil gained redemption by reliving one day in order to help people and thus learned to care about others.
Seconds, however, is more similar to the Star Trek the Next Generation episode, Tapestry. In that episode, as Captain Picard is dying due to a heart injury, Q allows him to go back in time to prevent that injury from ever occurring. But, as Picard discovered, altering that one event changed, and not for the best, fundamentally who he was.
Similarly, O’Malley’s protagonist, Katie, has been given the opportunity to go back and change “mistakes” in the hope that the second draft of her life will go better. Although Katie is a Millennial, her problems are not much different from any of the issues faced by a person who was in their middle to late 20’s, or for that matter their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. We seem to think that as we get older that we will finally figure out this thing called “life.” I’m in my mid-fifties and am still waiting.
Katie is a talented chef. While she is mildly happy working for someone else, there is a burning ache in her for something more: she wants to own her own restaurant. This almost fundamental need to create your own business is something deeply rooted in the American psyche. Having done it myself, I fully identified with Katie on this point. It’s as if by creating your business, you don’t merely gain freedom but a sense of vindication that your life really does have meaning.
And Katie in is sore need of such vindication. While objectively her life is good, she thinks that it is unfulfilled. The crisis point happens when her long-term relationship with her boyfriend ends, and goes on to discover these magic mushrooms which allow her to rewrite her past.
Now, I am faced with the reviewer’s problem: how much of the book do I review in order to convince you to read it? Normally, this is not a problem, and I’d just plow along. But, I am reluctant to do so here. Katie’s story is that of her self-discovery, and O’Malley, through Katie, asks us to reflect upon our own lives. By revealing too much in this review, I can spoil your chance of traveling this road with Katie with fresh eyes. So, I’ll end it here.
O’Malley has reworked a cliché and made it fresh and original. Seconds is an engaging, yet easy to read tale of morality and philosophy. Like the episode, Tapestry, Seconds is a thoughtful examination of who we are and how we live or should live our lives. Buy it and expect to finish it in one sitting.