SURVIVAL MATH by Mitchell S. Jackson
Kirkus Star


Notes on an All-American Family
Email this review


A dynamic, impressive debut memoir from the Whiting Award–winning author of The Residue Years (2013).

Following his award-winning debut novel, Jackson (Writing/New York Univ.) looks back on the specific chaos of historical, cultural, and familial forces that, despite the continued presence of open wounds, allowed them a chance at redemption in their home of Portland, Oregon. As he writes, “there’s the history that’s hit the books, what for all time should live in its ledgers, but…I must keep alive the record of where we lived and how we lived and what we lived and died for,” so it doesn’t slip “into the ether.” The author chronicles the complicated influences that have shaped his life, weaving through the Reaganomics era and its attendant uneven burden on black families, which led to expanding precariousness and subsequent street-scheming and entrenched pipe-dreaming. In his lyric memoir in essays, Jackson navigates family strife, crime, guns, toxic masculinity, substance abuse and addiction, and the meaning of “hustle,” among countless other timely topics. The author also makes it clear that there’s no room for pity, neither for his own choices nor those of his mother, who struggled with addiction, or the collection of black men he homages as the “composite Pops” who raised him. These are powerful stories of survival in the face of tremendous odds, rendered in a consistently intriguing hybrid of the street-cool hip-hop mathematics of Mos Def and the bluesy, ancestry-minded prison-cell work of Etheridge Knight (especially “The Idea of Ancestry”). The narrative hits its peak when Jackson motions beyond the tenuous spectacle of a moment to understand what came before it and to hope about what deliverance might come after it even while admitting, sometimes ashamedly so, that he is still wrestling with it all.

A potent book that revels in the author’s truthful experiences while maintaining the jagged-grain, keeping-it-a-100, natural storytelling that made The Residue Years a modern must-read.

Pub Date: March 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5011-3170-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2019


NonfictionAIR TRAFFIC by Gregory Pardlo
by Gregory Pardlo
NonfictionNO ASHES IN THE FIRE by Darnell L. Moore
by Darnell L Moore