Sunday, January 16, 2011

Black Swan Green - A Classic Of The Genre

Black Swan Green is a lyrical coming of age novel less noteworthy for its character and plot points than for its exemplary use of language to strike at the reader's heart. David Mitchell makes precise word choices and smoothly melds them into phrases and sentences that are greater than the sum of their parts. He's like a Wall Street hedge fund manager boldly using leverage to increase the reader's return on investment. He should be studied by every writer who wants to learn from one of the best.

In this book, Mitchell writes in the voice of a middle-class British school boy, using idioms and slang that may be a little off-putting at first. The slight effort to comprehend them is worth it, though, because it makes the casual reader show down a bit and enjoy the writing itself. From lyrical descriptions to crackling dialogue and heart-thumping exposition, Mitchell does it all well:

"I peered through Dad's razor-sharp blind, over the glebe, past the cockrel tree, over more fields, up to the Malvern Hills. Pale morning, icy sky, frosted crusts on the hills, but no sign of sticking snow, worse luck."

None of this is to say the story itself isn't compelling, although it's driven by mostly standard preteen angst. The protagonist, Jason Taylor, faces not only the usual afflications of puberty--unrelenting bullies, twittering girls, and a mountain of self-doubt--but a gut-twisting stammer that rules his inner life. His parents are engaged in a drama of their own, more sensed than seen, and outside events like the Falklands War and a local hate campaign directed at Gypsies add to the tensions in the story and flesh out the world he inhabits.

In addition to Catcher in the Rye, Black Swan Down will rank among the classic coming of age novels like A Separate Peace, A Boy's Life, and The Yearling. I suspect it is a book I'll come back to time and time again.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

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