Black Swan Green

During his lunch break, a co-worker went into the bookstore by our office. There, in the bargain section, was a stack of Black Swan Green, one of his favorite books. For whatever reason, no book lover likes to see one of their favorites in the bargain section. Sure, it's probably just the product of an overzealous print-run, but if I found something meaningful in that book, then I would tend to think it's being undervalued, and perhaps even tainted by the scarlet sticker emblazoned on its cover. Rather than leave them there to be passed over by those who didn't realize they were walking past a true gem, my co-worker bought them. All. The whole pile of approximately twenty copies. He brought them back to work and started passing them out to anyone who he knew enjoyed reading. His sole caveat was that if you didn't think it would be your cup of tea, pass it along to someone else. The warm and fuzzy feeling elicited by this display of loyalty to a book meant that I simply dove into Black Swan Green, confident that here, I would find an excellent novel.

Black Swan Green is composed of thirteen chapters that chart thirteen months in the life of a thirteen year old boy. Jason Taylor is growing up in the English town of Black Swan Green (located in Worchestershire, which is "somewhere in the middle") in 1982. For England at large, that means Maggie Thatcher, the end of the Cold War, recession, and the Falklands War. For Jason Taylor, it means those things, but they tend to serve as background to his life spent navigating the complicated adolescent world of school, bullies, girls, secret clubs, bickering parents, and speech therapy.

It should come as no surprise that Black Swan Green is semi-autobiographical. Some critics have grumbled about this fact, saying that it restricted Mitchell's movements when he normally plays much more with form in his other work. The novel frames a little over a year in Jason's life, resulting in the fact that there isn't a single narrative arch to the novel. Instead, it could be taken as thirteen short stories, each highlighting an encounter or an experience that the reader can see will help shape his life and his character. Mitchell is then free to linger over details and characters, evoking a sense of what one really remembers about growing up. After reading this, I feel as though I've been given a very intimate glance into Mitchell's life. It went beyond the facts and illuminated the core of what it means to be on the cusp of adulthood, no longer a child but not quite a man. Black Swan Green might not have had a fancy literary format, meant to impress and surprise, but I was certainly dazzled with its quiet beauty and truth. It was quite a bargain indeed.

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