Black Swan Green Discussion #2

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This continues the discussion between Megan Sullivan and me. The first installment can be found here. I have tagged potential spoilers in white, but you should be able to follow the discussion.]

Hello Ed,

Yes, it’s cold here, but at least the sun is shining, melting the several inches of snow that fell on Sunday evening. I’ve been thinking long and hard about Black Swan Green and am finally ready to respond to your email.

I kept waiting for something Mitchell-esque to happen while reading BSG — and it didn’t. I was surprised at first, but then grew to appreciate his new, more subtle writing. I think he was subtly trying to play with the form of the book again. This book follows the traditional Bildungsroman form. You could say that his stutter and his poetic aspiration sets him apart from his family and peers and starts his journey towards adulthood. Perhaps I am over analyzing. As for the mysterious phone calls, I thought Jason’s dad had a girlfriend, who kept calling. Julia also mentions picking up the phone to silence, so I chalked it up to another woman.

I found reading this book very painful indeed. Granted I’ve never been a teenage boy, but I thought Mitchell wrote admirably in that spirit. With regards to Jason’s parents’ deteriorating relationship, I thought Mitchell captured how it feels when your parents fight, that angsty feeling of wanting to intervene, but at the same time, wanting to run and hide. The only unrealistic part I felt, was the end, where Jason comes to terms with his parents’ split. People handle things differently, sure, but Jason seemed a little too adult about it. What do I know about the adolescent boy’s mind though?

I enjoyed the “Relatives” chapter, when Jason’s aunt, uncle, and cousins visit. The observations on adult behavior is sharp, particularly with his uncle’s bombastic behavior. And I loved how he wanted to impress his cousin Hugo, but at the same time grew uncomfortable when Hugo steals the cigarettes and candy at the store. I think he realizes his cousin’s a prat, but he’s still cool and that’s what Jason wants.

I didn’t mind the connection between Frobisher from Cloud Atlas and Madame Crommelynck in BSG. I didn’t find the connection relevant to Madame C’s character in the “Solarium” chapter. This was one of my favorite pieces by the way. I loved how she forced Jason to explain the subtleties of being a teenager, such as when she pries the name Dawn Madden out of him and suggests he write her a poem. I loved the way Mitchell had her speak — I can hear the accent and picture her with her purple shawl and large jewelry. His disappoint when he arrives for a lesson and she’s been forced to leave is palpable.

The biggest disappointment for me was the ending or last tale. All of a sudden, Jason seems wise and grown up. It’s all a little too pat for me. His parents have split apart, he’s moving to a new town, his dad’s got a new girlfriend, even Philip Phelps has broken with Grant Burch. What ‘s your take on the end of the book, Ed?

Overall I’d say that I enjoyed this book, though it’s not without its flaws. I read it the same way you did, Ed, in sips rather than in one big gulp. Like any story collection, BSG has its strong points and weak points. I find it admirable that Mitchell wants to break free of the role he’s created for himself (with the help of critics of course). I think people will either pan the book because it’s not perfect enough or for veering away from his previous style. I also think that whatever he wrote after Cloud Atlas would have to stand up to a great deal of criticism. But like you, I’ll still read anything he produces.

Back to you,


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