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The Residue Yearsby Mitchell Jackson
A searing novel about life in Northeast Portland during the 1990s, The Residue Years brilliantly captures what it was like to be a young, headstrong African American growing up enveloped in poverty and broken families, tempted by drugs, and overwhelmed by a palpable racial divide. A must-read for anyone open to learning about the unseen side of Portland.
Synopses & Reviews
The NEP (Northeast Portland) is not the Portland of Portlandia, farm-to-table restaurants, and indie beers. The NEP is Portland's ghetto, where an adolescent male in the 1990s is more likely to get the mandatory minimum than a high school diploma. And for young men, most opportunities have to do with fast-twitch muscles. It is this world, Mitchell Jackson's home, that this dynamic autobiographical novel portrays.
Fresh out of a treatment program, Rhonda has three months to stay clean and to get her kids back. Her youngest two have been living with their father, across town and in another world. Champ, her eldest, has been holding it down in the neighborhood, trying to keep on track and in school, to do the right thing by his mother and little brothers, but the lure of the street and the need for money pull him into the ubiquitous drug trade of the NEP.
As the three months that make up the novel's framework push on, as Rhonda looks for work, turns to God, does her level best to avoid the people and the haunts of her crack-smoking days, her son Champ dares to dream a solution: a house, and a united family under one roof. In a misguided effort to secure funds for a family home, he tumbles deeper and deeper into the rough trade of drug dealing.
The tension and the conflict and the heartbreak in this novel are apparent. But there's also an intimacy and a reality here that plays against stereotype. There's compassion and humor, too. Told in a language that sings with the rhythms of the street, The Residue Years is about a world of few choices and little opportunity, of drug dealers and drug users, sometimes within the same family. And it's about family against all odds: a son's guarded love for his mother and a mother desperate for a second chance at love with her sons.
"A Portland, Ore., family struggles to stay together despite the overwhelming effects of the crack epidemic in Jackson's gritty autobiographical novel. Fresh out of her nth time in court-ordered rehab, Grace does everything she can to stay focused on the most important thing in her life — her three boys. No longer able to get the corporate jobs she had in the past, she toils at a fast-food restaurant and tries to avoid her old crowd so she can finally share a home with her children. Meanwhile, her eldest, Champ, deals the very thing that put his mother into rehab, so that he can give his family what he believes they deserve. He is intent on being his mother's lifeline, providing her with a car and new clothes, while juggling college, his girlfriend, and his younger brothers. The narrative shifts between Grace and Champ as they stumble towards finding the right way to provide a home for the ones they love in a cycle that was designed for failure. At times, the pain and desperation of the family is swallowed by the overwritten prose. However, Jackson's dedication to the shadows and unhappiness of his characters shines through at the crucial moments. Agent: Liz Darhansoff" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"I was touched by characters whose lives were often as real for me as my memories of growing up. The language invented to tell their stories engages, challenges, clarifies the American language, claiming it, enlarging it." John Edgar Wideman, author of Fanon, Philadelphia Fire, and Brothers and Keepers
"In this raw heartwreck of a novel, every bit of personal wisdom is hard-won. Here is Grace, mother of Champ: 'Some people are latecomers to themselves, but who we are will soon enough surround us.' It's a searing claim and prophecy about lives severely tested. The author is entirely persuasive, such that Grace and her sons, given vivid voice, are one of the fictional families I have cared about most." Amy Hempel, author of The Collected Stories
"Mitchell Jackson writes brilliant sentences, so full of the energy and beauty and tragedy of life. The Residue Years is an amazing first novel that also introduces an important new voice in literary fiction." Michael Kimball, author of Big Ray
"I know these characters well: Champ with his swagger and invincibility, doing all he can to protect his fiercely beating heart. Grace, held together with polish and a prayer, trying to make a way when there isn't one. Both of them longing, for a better life, a clear path out of their predicaments. I know the language they speak: voices redolent of struggle and the South displaced to our country's far northwestern corner: Portland, Oregon. A wrenchingly beautiful debut by a writer to be reckoned with, The Residue Years marks the beginning of a most promising career." Jesmyn Ward, author of Salvage the Bones and Men We Reaped
"There will be temptation to put Mitchell Jackson's formidable debut novel in a convenient box but a true reading defies segregation. The Residue Years speaks in melodies about a grim world you think you know yet likely never inhabited. See the face of systemic racism, gentrification, failed hoop dreams, and a misguided drug war that makes criminals of victims. Feel the breaking heart. And also be lifted up; this fantastic novel speaks ultimately of love." Robb Todd, author of Steal Me For Your Stories
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.
Fresh out of a treatment program and back home, Rhonda tries to stay clean and to get her kids back. Her youngest two have been living with their father, across town and in another world. Champ, her eldest, has been holding it down in the neighborhood, trying to keep on track, in school, and doing the right thing by his mother and little brothers. However, the lure of the street and the need for money has pulled him into the ubiquitous drug trade.
As Rhonda looks for work, turns to God, does her level best to avoid the people and the haunts of her crack-smoking days, her son Champ dares to dream a solution: a house, and a united family under one roof. In a misguided effort to secure funds for a family home, he tumbles deeper and deeper into the rough trade of drug dealing.
Told in a voice that sings with the rhythms of poetry and the language of the street, The Residue Years is about a world of few choices and little opportunity, of drug dealers and drug users, sometimes within the same family. But mostly it's about family against all odds: a son's guarded love for his mother and a mother desperate for a second chance at love with her sons.
About the Author
Mitchell Jackson was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He holds a Masters of Writing from Portland State and an MFA from New York University. Mitchell teaches writing at NYU, Medgar Evers College, and John Jay College. He also works as a journalist, writing about rap music for Vibe, The Source, and various others. His fiction and poetry have appeared in literary journals, and he is a previous winner of the Hurston Wright Award for College Writers. He is also the author of the original e-book Oversoul: Stories and Essays. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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