Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

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Someone, somewhere, at one point has had the thought “What if I could go back in time and change that”. The “that” in question might be a mistake they made in an advance on a crush or maybe it was an answer they gave in an interview for their dream job. Regardless of what needed changing, most likely (unless they’re a Time Lord or living in the world of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel) they won’t get the chance to do that.

In O’Malley’s new graphic novel Seconds, chef Katie does get that very same chance. She’s given the magical ability to correct her mistakes over and over, even at the behest of the house’s live in spirit. Maybe I should back up a bit. So Katie is a chef working at a restaurant called Seconds. Clever huh? She’s been at Seconds for four or so years; four years in which it has gone from her dream restaurant working with her friends to one that is filled with younger employees who call her Boss and Chief. This is when Katie plans to open her own restaurant, one where she can cook again and design recipes. She gets another investor and they pick a site to develop this new restaurant. Only problem? The contractor needs more money and the whole thing is just taking too long. On top of this problem Katie is still basically in love with her ex Max who still for some reason likes to get dinner at Seconds, maybe just to remind Katie he is alive. One night while Katie is laying in bed she has a dream of a blonde girl sitting atop her dresser. The girl, who Katie has never seen before, warns her that if things go wrong, not to forget. Then the girl slips into the top drawer of the dresser and Katie wakes up the next morning with no memory of this bizarre encounter.

However one night while she’s at the restaurant, a ghoulish set of events occurs. First she goes into the kitchen to critique Andrew’s (new chef) food and plating. Instead of being courteous and giving him tips, she knocks him and tells him all his food looks like garbage. For some odd reason this leads the two into the walk in cooler where they start going at it, tongue in throat. The only thing that interrupts their love making session is when they hear screaming coming from the kitchen. It appears that a waitress named Hazel has had hot oil spilt all down her arms on accident. She’d accidentally bumped into a cook named Patrick while he was carrying a tray of hot potatoes. Katie takes Hazel to the hospital, then heads home. Once she gets home, she has a brief moment of clarity where she remembers the girl standing on her dresser. She goes to the dresser and finds a tiny box that contains a notepad, red mushroom and set of instructions. The instructions tell her to write her mistake in the pad, ingest the mushroom and go to sleep. When she should wake, whatever mistake she wrote down should be corrected. Katie follows these instructions, claiming her mistake to be canoodling with Andrew in the workplace and heads to bed. When she wakes in the morning she goes to see Hazel whose arms are completely unscathed by hot oil and Andrew at the restaurant who has no recollection of their encounter in the cooler the night before. From there Katie continues a cycle of trying to fix her mistakes basically as she makes them, but also running into problems with continued use of these future changing mushrooms.

Most of the novel’s themes are about changing mistakes that could greatly impact Katie’s future. Katie tries her best to change the mistakes that she thinks will better improve her life, but in the process ends up making mistakes that she has to fix, creating a vicious cycle of repair. Her own mortality (professional and career wise) is what’s at stake through most of her choices. At times she is working her hardest to fix her personal life (i.e. the dreamy Max), while doing her best to keep moving forward with her new restaurant. Never does O’Malley take the easy way out and give Katie the storybook ending she thinks she deserves, but rather the one she’s earned and most comfortable in. Maybe the end result is the intended climax of all her mistakes and repairs; her divine destiny.

Seconds is a gorgeous graphic novel. Fans of Scott Pilgrim will instantly be attracted to the familiar art style and writing by O’Malley. The story itself is incredibly fun and easy to read, delving both into the fantasy and humor genres. The theme of “if you could fix your past mistakes, would you?” is an age old one, but it’s one that O’Malley seems to be able to bring a breath of fresh air to. Katie seems at times to have her life together, only to have parts of it derail a moment later. Diehard Scott Pilgrim fans should know that this is a 300 page standalone graphic novel, so there isn’t quite as much character building and material here, but that’s okay. Seconds is a fun, quick read for fans both of the authors previous work and even for those that might not be familiar with his work. The art style is easily approachable; it’s bright colors and quirky illustrations make the cartoons attractive to the eye.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 – Seconds is a reminder that Bryan Lee O’Malley is a talented artist and graphic novel writer. Not only did he create the Scott Pilgrim series, which is one of the most beloved comic book series ever, but he also has talent in writing standalone stories. Seconds is the novel that gives us hope that our mistakes can be corrected, no matter how regretful we are in regards to them. Seconds proves there’s always another chance.

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