Jackson’s readers experience rancid pandemonium and a story where no one wins

When Mitchell Jackson was named the 2014 winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in Baton Rouge this January, reading his winning novel The Residue Years was a must.

Published in 2013 by Bloomsbury Books, The Residue Years is a semi-autobiographical novel based on Jackson’s experience growing up in Portland, Ore., in a neighborhood ravaged by drug use. Behind the chaos of being stand-in father to his younger brothers while mom is in and out of drug houses and rehab, Jackson (who is called Champ) is on an earnest pursuit to finish college, and although he doesn’t proclaim it often, he is deliberate in his attempt to succeed beyond the limits of poverty that envelops his community and his family. This isn’t some noble cause of his but a personal goal of triumph.

“You act like you don’t know me now. You act like you don’t know better than judge me by these local-ass standards. My dreams are bigger than this place, and you nor no one else is going to kill them…I refuse to be one of those fools anonymous everywhere but inside their head. F—ing refuse, do you hear?” he tells Kim. (Here, Jackson writes giving clarity and tone to many Black men’s inarticulate emotions.)

Champ’s dream is to finish college and is well on his way into graduate school. He dreams to buy the family home from its current owners and has the cash to do so. He dreams to meet his mother’s needs so he provides for her and his live-in girlfriend, Kim. He dreams to be a good father and after the struggle of choosing life (this time), he begins to rack up diapers and clothes in anticipation. And he dreams to help his brothers and he does so by visiting regularly until their father fights for custody. These are amicable dreams that we, readers, hope he gains even while he sells the same drugs—crack cocaine—that is destroy lives around him.

Pandemonium comes swiftly with a trusted friend stealing his wealth, a sale turned violent, overcooked crack, and a final fight with Kim. In his desperation, Champ prepares to make another sale only to have to detour, push through a crack house and rescue his mom. What a whirlwind!

It’s Jackson’s prismatic voice that escalates and his vocabulary ranging from intellectual to rancid that makes The Residue Years rise above similar stories about life in poverty-stricken, drug zones where no one—not even the main character—escapes its traps. BuyTheBook.

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