|The Residue Years
Mitchell S. Jackson
4.5 / 5
"It's years beyond the worst of it, and it's your time, Mom, a time of head starts and new starts and starting and going and not stopping--of re-dos and fixes, of gazing at full moons and quarter-moons and seeing what before were phantasms for-reals."
Mitchell S. Jackson grew up black in a neglected neighborhood in America’s whitest city, Portland, Oregon. In the ’90s, those streets and beyond had fallen under the shadow of crack cocaine and its familiar mayhem. In his commanding autobiographical novel, Mitchell writes what it was to come of age in that time and place, with a break-out voice that’s nothing less than extraordinary.
The Residue Years switches between the perspectives of a young man, Champ, and his mother, Grace. Grace is just out of a drug treatment program, trying to stay clean and get her kids back. Champ is trying to do right by his mom and younger brothers, and dreams of reclaiming the only home he and his family have ever shared. But selling crack is the only sure way he knows to achieve his dream. In this world of few options and little opportunity, where love is your strength and your weakness, this family fights for family and against what tears one apart.
Honest in its portrayal, with cadences that dazzle, The Residue Years signals the arrival of a writer set to awe.
This was a fantastic and tragic book. I really enjoyed the effect of the two interwoven stories told by Champ and his mother Grace, both of whom end up in trouble with the law due to the surging popularity of crack in Portland, OR in the 1990s. (This was also something I was completely unaware of, being a teenager living on the other coast, so it also taught me a lot.) Stories like this, which show you the truly raw and human sides of people who work so hard only to fail or be torn down, make me want to weep for humanity. We're in a really messed up world when people I want to befriend and who I grow to care for become victims of society's ills. I hated to see the struggles which Champ and his mom kept trying so hard to overcome. But I did love how the author presented this side of the story, how he was able to make very real and sympathetic the story that we've all heard and seen so many times before, that of the drug dealers and drug users. Many want to simply punish those who fall prey to the drug culture in our country, as clearly it must be entirely their own fault, but it is never as black and white as all that. The grey area of humankind is really what interests me most. What made that man a murderer, or that woman a prostitute? Nobody is really born into the life they ultimately end up with. A series of events and circumstances put people in places they never expected. You can't ever predict how things are going to turn out, can you? I learned that lesson a long time ago: not to daydream about how things could transpire, because chances are, no matter how you imagine things will go, they never, ever do. I think that is part of the beauty and tragedy of being human, and interacting on the level that people do. Society has made it so that we have to work every day to interact with and understand new people, and sometimes we succeed and make great connections. But sometimes we fail. And that is how life goes. That is how life went for Grace and for Champ, and all one can do is ever have hope that the next time around, things will go better. Right?
I know this wasn't really a book review, but hopefully it was enough to make you think, or even pick up Jackson's book. It really got me pondering quite a bit - can you tell?
P.S. Addendum: I did want to point out that I liked how Jackson framed the story by telling the "ending" before he laid out the circumstances leading up to that. I thought that worked really well for this book.
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