Seconds–Bryan Lee O’Malley’s follow-up to the seminal Scott Pilgrim books–has been out for a few weeks now, almost a month. I was in the middle of the busy season for my job and intended to hold off on reading it until after the Big Day, as a kind of reward for surviving. That didn’t really happen, though, and I ended up reading it in one sitting when I should have been doing other things.
It’s a little unfair, knowing that Seconds will inevitably be compared to Scott Pilgrim. I can’t help it, myself; Scott Pilgrim was one of the first things my MFA cohort bonded over when we started our program. I still have my original copies, battered and beaten-up as they are, even though new hardbound editions with colours by Nathan Fairbairn are being released as we speak. Those original copies were passed from person to person while we waited for the series to finish. We piled into rows of the theatre for the film adaption. Scott Pilgrim represents a thrilling, creatively engaged time in my life. But there was always the question: what comes next?
That was years ago. I’m at a different point in my life. O’Malley also seems like he’s at a different point, too. Katie, the protagonist of Seconds is somewhere completely different from Scott. While Scott had no clear path, was struggling to find himself, Katie knows exactly what she wants–too bad that getting what you want isn’t guaranteed. Until you encounter a weird fey girl hanging around your house-turned-restaurant who offers you the chance to change the past by eating magic mushrooms…
Seconds is not a sprawling epic. It holds a tight focus on Katie as she uses the mushrooms to change her world, rewriting her past to make her present more advantageous. Maybe things would be better if she’d done something different. Altering the past is a trope, it’s nothing new, but there’s something interesting about the scale that O’Malley employs, that the changes are centered around the restaurant, that even when it’s only a small space Katie still ends up navigating an ocean of altered worlds. Struggling to catch up with each new world as she wakes up into it, trying to piece together what her circumstances are without anyone noticing. Trying to put together a friendship with the anxious server Hazel, who is with Katie every step of the way even as her own memories are changed by the twists and turns of mushroom magic. Their relationship is the key to the book, even as we’re presented with the other things–a romantic relationship, a professional goal–that Katie is more willing to prioritize.
The book isn’t perfect. O’Malley repeats himself by having the end result of all the time manipulation manifest as something very similar to one of Scott Pilgrim’s final battles. He doesn’t spend as much time as I would have liked to set up Katie’s world before it started changing wildly. But he makes up for it in the sheer energy of his artwork, the verve of his characters, and Nathan Fairbairn’s beautiful colours. The power of O’Malley’s work is almost always in his characters and their energy, and that holds true for Seconds.
If I’m going to be honest, it doesn’t have the same impact that Scott Pilgrim did. It’s a different book, a different project, a quieter piece. It isn’t nearly as immersive, but feels more sober, more meditative in places, strikes me in my soul a bit more. It speaks to the part of me that wonders how I got where I am now, how I might get back to some earlier island, some better region. It wraps itself quite tightly around my regrets, squeezes them ever so slightly. And knowing that my friends, the others from my cohort, are similarly far from where they expected to be–because that’s life–I am excited to be able to hand it over to them, each in turn.
(Seconds was published for the first time in 2014 by Ballentine Books)