Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds: A Second Chance Awaits

SecondsSeconds
Bryan Lee O’Malley
Ballantine Books

The followup to the Scott Pilgrim series was a long time coming. Seconds is a self-contained graphic novel, although it does share some common elements with the Scott Pilgrim books–namely cute young adults finding themselves, and the supernatural. Katie is a talented young chef with a successful restaurant named Seconds (the first meaning of the book’s title, which I’m guessing comes from “second helpings,” but I don’t remember an explanation). It’s a success story, but she doesn’t own the place, so she is focused on opening a new restaurant with a new partner. The building renovation is not going well, Katie is thrown into emotional turmoil when her ex shows up, and then a waitress is severely burned in a kitchen accident.

Katie the star chef

Katie the star chef

Katie returns home from the hospital to find a little box with a notebook titled “My Mistakes,” a red-capped mushroom, and an instruction card that reads “A Second Chance Awaits. 1. Write your mistake 2. Ingest one mushroom 3. Go to sleep 4. Wake anew” She awakes to discover that the previous night’s events never happened, and she is the only one who remembers them. Upon further investigation she finds the source of the mushrooms under the floorboards in the basement–and meets Lis, the house spirit, who informs her that the rule is one mushroom per customer. Having discovered the mushroom supply, Katie refuses to be bound by the rule.

Katie meets the house spirit

Katie meets the house spirit

You can guess where this is going. Everyone regrets choices they’ve made in life–Katie uses the mushrooms to attempt to make her life not just good, but perfect. Of course every change she makes results in all sorts of unintended consequences: she keeps her ex, but loses the restaurant; she gets the restaurant, but her ex falls in love with someone else; and so on. After awhile she awakes to a world that is fundamentally strange, with menu items like “Breast of Gypceros” and “Antillean Cave-Rail.” It’s kind of a mix between the movies “Groundhog Day” (where she keeps living more or less the same day over and over) and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (where she sees the changes in other people’s lives caused by her absence, or radically changed role).

One of many "revisions"

One of many “revisions”

In the end Katie realizes how horribly wrong things have gotten, and does what she can to make things right. She finally restores the power of the house spirit, and gives Lis the last mushroom. Lis eats it, so presumably she is the one responsible for the final reset. It’s not a literal reset–which I was somewhat expecting–so kudos to O’Malley for avoiding the obvious. Some of Katie’s “improvements” remain in place, but the big difference is in her attitude. She has learned to enjoy the good things in her life, and accept the things she can’t change. Of course she could have done that in the first place and avoided the whole mess, but then we’d miss this lovely surreal voyage of self-discovery.

Diagram of Seconds

Cross-section diagram of Seconds

Visually the book is similar to the look of Scott Pilgrim: O’Malley still favors a simple Manga-influenced cartooning style (with big eyes!). This time there’s color right from the start (courtesy of colorist Nathan Fairbairn). In addition to making the characters more identifiable, there’s also a toning effect used to clearly differentiate the Revision scenes, which show how the mushroom changed the previous day’s events.

Seconds lacks some of the manic energy of Scott Pilgrim, but it makes up for it with more nuanced storytelling. There’s still plenty of imagination on view, as each new revision sends the story in a new and unexpected direction.

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