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Black Swan Green

by David Mitchell

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
1982 is a rough year for thirteen-year-old, Jason Taylor. He is mercilessly abused by the tough kids at his school; his boyhood crush is far beyond his reach; his older sister refers to him as "thing" ; and his parents' relationship leaves much to be desired in the wedded-bliss department. All in all, Jason would rather be almost anywhere other than Black Swan Green, a Worcestershire village where "there aren't even any white swans… it's sort of a local joke."

Black Swan Green is divided into 13 chapters, each a month in the life of 13-year-old Jason Taylor, each revealing a bit more about the sweet torture that is life as a teenager. For Jason, that torture centers around a world of secrets and fear. Jason is a stammerer who fears revealing his speech impediment; he writes poetry under a pseudonym, afraid that his effeminate endeavor will be discovered, to the detriment of his already shaky social standing; he fears that his parents will find out that he's broken the Omega Seamaster watch that weathered World War II upon his grandfather's wrist; and Jason fears ever acting on the debilitating crush he has on the toughest girl in his class.
Through his poet narrator, David Mitchell weaves a coming-of-age tale that is simultaneously beautiful and brutal, coaxing simple beauty from ordinary experiences like ice-skating:

I sat on the empty bench to eat a slab of Jamaican Ginger Cake, then went out on the ice. Without other kids watching, I didn't fall once. Round and around in swoopy anticlockwise loops I looped, a stone on the end of a string. Overhanging trees tried to touch my head with their fingers. Rooks craw … craw … crawed, like old people who've forgotten why they've come upstairs.
Mitchell's prose is as visceral as it is beautiful, and we never lose sight of the fact that it is indeed a thirteen-year-old telling the story. The author flexes his poet's muscles throughout Black Swan Green, forgoing the complex structural maneuvers of Cloud Atlas for the power of simple but well-crafted language.

David Mitchell's story-telling abilities are unparalleled and his characters fully realized, becoming like people you actually know, or used to. But it is in mining truth from the lessons of childhood that the novel derives its true power. Such truths are rarely vocalized in real life, and if they are, they are never illustrated as fully or as powerfully as in Black Swan Green.

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