*spoilers in this review!*
“Real talk, if making tough decisions is part of being a man, then I might wind up a Geritol-popping juvenile.”
I decided to do a review on this book while it’s still on my mind. Just finished it today and while the start was a bit slow and confusing, the story quickly picked up.
The Residue Years bounces between the POV of Champ and his mother, Grace. (FYI, I love books with multiple POV’s, just not too many of them.) Grace has recently been released from prison and is on a path to graduate from her parole program and get her two younger sons back. They are currently in the custody of their father, who has something to say about that.
Champ, more than anything, loves and cares for his mother. Everything he does is for his family– his brothers, his girl, their unborn child, his mother. Champ’s dream is to earn enough money to buy back the home that the family used to live in, back when the family was happy, before Grace became a felon and went to prison, before the family was torn apart and moved to every run down apartment and dank, dusty town house in the poorest neighborhood in the Portland area.
To achieve this dream, Champ sells crack. Grace tries hard not to know.
I found Jackson’s voice, simply the way he describes something as simple as a political sign in a yard to be enchanting. I feel like I’m there, in run down Portland, what he calls the ‘whitest city in America’. He talks about her girls hair, calling them lustrous tresses as she sashays out of his life. Of his father, a man who abandoned Grace and the family when he was most needed and now wants to take the thing that means the most to her, he says,
“He has the face of a martyr, a man who hasn’t been crucified enough for his sins.”
Powerful words and phrases that aren’t just ink on a page, but fraught with deep meaning.
Jackson often breaks ‘the fourth wall’. From the beginning of the story, he calls himself on his own BS.
“Enough of this fantasyland sh_t.”
“Godsend? One of you should have checked me for that.”
This creates an atmosphere, a relationship between writer and reader that feels like Champ sitting back, telling the story to an old friend.
Grace’s chapters are the most heartbreaking. Her life, post prison release, is difficult. Finding work, working long hours for not enough money and being responsible enough to show the state that you’ve learned your lesson obviously wears on her. The decisions that Grace makes all have consequence and watching her slow slide back into a life she’s trying so hard to climb out of had me turning pages with fury.
What keeps me from marking this book as a five star? The edgy, artsy decision to omit quotation marks. For the most part, it’s easy to tell what’s dialogue and what’s exposition, but this took some getting used to. It was distracting to wonder who was speaking– the narrator, or the character.
I’m already planning to read Mitchell Jackson’s next novel Oversoul. I hope it’s just as great!