Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:
1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. She’s also got a dresser drawer full of magical mushrooms—and an irresistible urge to make her life not just good, but perfect. Too bad it’s against the rules. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions.
From the mind and pen behind the acclaimed Scott Pilgrim series comes a madcap new tale of existential angst, everyday obstacles, young love, and ancient spirits that’s sharp-witted and tenderhearted, whimsical and wise.
Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley 8.0
‘Seconds’ is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s follow-up oeuvre, following the acclaimed pop culture jam ‘Scott Pilgrim’. This 336-page brick tells the story of Katie, a renowned chef who is about to open up her own restaurant, after having worked at Seconds as the main chef for four years.
This has been Katie’s dream for as long as she can remember, and she’s itching to leave as soon as possible, having seen all the original staff at Seconds move on to other things and now that her work relations have dissolved. But there are constant delays. She’s stuck.
She begins to have strange dreams of a curious looking white-haired and red-eyed girl sitting on top of her dresser staring back at her. In one dream, she finds a mushroom along with instructions on how to use it; she discovers that with it she can rewrite a moment in the past.
And she does.
Eventually, though, she finds even more mushrooms and begins to use them indiscriminately to alter events whenever she’s unhappy about the way she’s behaved, or due to an unsatisfactory outcome. However, the more she does this, the more upset the little girl, Lis, gets.
Something is brewing at Seconds.
‘Seconds’ is broken up into various chapters and “revisions” – that is, every time that Katie decides to gobble a mushroom and rewrite her past, the new course of events is shown to us in short dream-like sequences. Then Katie’s story continues from this new vantage point.
One of the problems is that neither Katie nor ourselves are privy to the ways in which her life has changed in between her “revision” and this new present; since Katie has not lived out the experiences that unfolded, she is caught unaware of significant details and changes.
This puts her in awkward situations.
It’s an intriguing concept, and a realistic one (if one accepts that Katie remains the same person with the same memories as before), but I also found it frustrating because she is pretty clueless and reckless: Somehow she doesn’t see the impact that her choices are having.
So she keeps making mistakes that could be avoided and never has the wisdom to not play with reality again. Further to that, she doesn’t even pay attention to Lis’ many warnings. All told, it made it hard for me to care for her because I felt slightly contemptuous.
It would have been so easy to just use a mushroom to make sure she never even found the first mushroom, thereby learning the lesson to work things out in her life instead of taking shortcuts. Instead, she just kept going on obliviously, until things just got wildly out of control.
Having said that, Katie felt real to me; there are people like this, who simply don’t learn from their mistakes. In fact, all the characters felt very real to me. They’re imperfect and make life decisions I’d disagree with, but people just do that. O’Malley captured that well.
I like O’Malley’s writing: The dialogues are realistic, the situations as well, and he injects it all with just enough humour to lighten it (ex: Katie is aware of the narration and sometimes comments on it or even contradicts it when she disagrees with the narrator’s assessment).
So I would certainly recommend ‘Seconds’. It’s an excellent book; it’s well-written, the characters are fleshed out nicely, the art is terrific and it reads breezily. Sure, Katie is an infuriating character at times, but O’Malley infuses the book with enough magic to make it compelling.