Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Review: "The Residue Years" by Mitchell S. Jackson
It has been awhile since I have written a review that is going to be long, which is disappointing to me by itself, but I am glad to be doing for a book like Mitchell S. Jackson’s debut novel, The Residue Years, easily the best book I have read in one or two months. After reading several books that tried, but never really succeeded in being great, this one soars with precision, originality and tons and tons of heart as it tells its story of two of two broken, wandering souls trying to what’s best for them and their families, but are constantly tempted by escape back to the easy road of selling drugs and abusing them respectively I have read a few books like this in the past. The one that comes to mind immediately is another debut novel that came out recently, Marcus Burke’s Team Seven, which I enjoyed, but didn’t love. I have been ruminating on what separates the two in quality, and it might be just that. Burke’s book is one written by a person with a lot of talent, but I know he has a lot to improve on, with a story that takes itself too lightly and is therefore, not emotionally affective. That is definitely not how I would describe Jackson’s book, which keeps quite a harrowing pace throughout its 350 page length, leaving me both breathless and horrified at the events that take place in these two people’s lives. The two people are a mother and son. Champ, the son, is wise beyond his years, knows big words and what they mean, and would make something of himself if only he could find a better way to make money that doesn’t involve selling crack. The drug also is central to his mom, Grace, who, at the beginning of the novel, is just leaving rehab for drug addiction. The plot is very loose, with short, manageable chapters detailing the lives of these people spent on the brink of despair. We witness Champ’s attempts at school, where a scene involving a presentation on black America and drug use might have been poignant, but coming from Champ, is horribly contradictory and filled with unrighteous anger. We also see his attempts at love with his girlfriend Kim, which is again sabotaged by his massive ego and his ability to be easily led toward temptation. Grace isn’t fairing much better, trying to fill the void in her life that drugs did with menial jobs, church and Narcotics Anonymous, all the while avoiding people, mainly men, who might lead her back to her old life. Jackson is a very original writer, using street slang in a way that isn’t too cumbersome for uninitiated readers and allows for great humorous moments in the lighter scenes, panic in the suspenseful ones and moving during emotional ones. A weird comparison I could make would be to Scottish writer James Kelman’s controversial novel, How Late It Was, How Late, having a similar mood to that novel as well as its themes of trying your hardest yet failing anyway, evidenced by a truly heartbreaking conclusion. Not always the most pleasant book, but one written with an unmatched passion for its subject and sympathy for the pathologically downtrodden.