I missed the morning meeting where my coworker mentioned the book The Underwater Welder as part of her book review, but the in the minutes she mentioned that Jeff Lemire’s book was one that she had reread as it was one of her favorite books. And though I only read the minutes, there was something about those few words, and the fact I know some of her reading style, her passion about books, that made me ask to borrow her copy.
I put it aside for a few days, and on a very lazy Sunday, I picked it up. I might try and reread it myself, not because it is a favorite, but I am not a hundred percent sure what I read. Yet it is very clear cut. All I can say is what the back of the book says: The best Twilight Zone episode that was never made. Only I cannot say it is the best as it was the best and the worst and something in-between. I will mention that the ending reminds me of an Alfred Hitchcock episode (that was based on a short story I forget the author of). So, that with that and the Twilight Zone reference, you get the mysterious, supernatural everydayness of the feeling of the book.
Okay, I guess can say more as there is more to this book. A lot more. This book is something to not rush or be distracted while reading it. The symbolism of water, the past and the future blend together. Flashbacks, flash-nows and possibly a flashforward/possible future/maybe the afterlife, blend together to make one hell of a ride. This graphic novel is poetic, messy, and organized. Your own biases, feelings and experiences will color, cloud, and create your feeling about it. This book is personal, relatable to almost anyone and organized to be chaotic (or so chaotic it is organized). Contradictions and straight forward themes make this book all at once a zero rating and a five, but also a four as there were things that I was looking for that I never completely found. Just like our main character.
A quick mention of the story: A man is the same age as his father was when he disappeared, presumed dead. Jack (the man) is obsessed with his job as an underwater welder, the ocean and possibly even of running away from his life; maybe even permanently. His wife is due any day with their first child, and Jack is beyond scared (or maybe indifferent). During a dive on the oilrig he works, Jack sees something that will change his life forever. A realistic supernatural journey unfolds on the pages.
And those pages have some unusual artwork. The illustrations are black and white sketches that are both incomplete and detailed. Some panels have hardly anything to them, while others have the detail needed to tell the story. You see the weariness of faces, the decay of the town, and how this small town moves along. At the same time, everything melts together. Like the story/text, the illustrations are both messy and organized. However, read them closely. Not only do you find a few hidden treats (there is a piece that is most likely a nod to another Lemire work) but they tell you things that the text is not aware of.
Teen to adult are the best readers. It would make a good book for an English class due to the theme of life and water. However, I do not see this for everyone, so know your reader. And I do not recommend this as a first graphic novel unless you are a strong reader of literature. It might be in the graphic novel format, but it is a novel in all sense of the word.