Review: Survival Math

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Review for "Survival Math" by Mitchell Jackson (2019)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a hard one to review. “Survival Math” is not a traditional linear memoir. It’s mostly autobiographical essays woven together on a variety of topics–love, relationships, racism, family, drugs, the criminal justice system–surrounding the author and the men in his life (father, cousins, and uncles) in and around Portland, Oregon. Mitchell Jackson’s mother is also a prominent figure throughout, but she’s mostly discussed as it relates to the men in her life. The book also includes “Survivor Files,” short, second person vignettes from the lives of men in his family.

I added this book with all the fervor that it was supposed to actually be good. Still, I’m conflicted on this. There’s a lengthy section in the middle when the author talks all about his life as a serial cheater, man-whore, and general asshole to women. He discusses his cruelties in a very detailed manner, in the same way one would describe the subtleties of criminal behavior or the forensics of a crime scene. I appreciated the unique approach, but I felt like he was hiding behind this voice rather than honestly confronting his past. And then there was the ‘why’ of all of this, especially when only a small part of this section dealt with any kinda contrition for his past wrongs. Was this a rationalization of that behavior or a catharsis? Even after reading all of it I’m still unsure. The finer points of his injuries to others laid bare, but never really heart felt. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a very smug humble brag going on.

There’s also quite a long section about 75% of the way in where Jackson writes about the many ‘pimps’ in his family and their experiences on the streets. I skipped this section. Pardon me for saying so, but I resolved a long time ago to never read a male’s perspective of women’s sex work. When it comes to “the game” (as they put it), men are almost always the power brokers and exploiters, no matter how you slice it. There’s also nothing glorious about physically and emotionally abusing women and taking their income, unless of course all the posturing is just another form of a humble brag, which I’ve already told you about.

It took me almost three months to read this. It’s an ok book, but overall I just don’t think it’s my cup of tea.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Scribner, and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.]

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Review: Juliet the Maniac

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Review for “Juliet the Maniac” by Juliet Escoria (to be published on 7 May 2019)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I’m a bit biased on this review because I love Juliet Escoria’s writing. I read her other book of fiction, “Black Cloud,” a few years ago, loved it immensely, and knew that I had to have more of whatever she writes. This book was no exception. I got an advance digital copy on Edelweiss and read it in a few days.

“Juliet the Maniac” is a fictionalized account of the author’s struggles with mental health issues as a teenager. The story begins when her bipolar disorder emerges around age 14 and continues for two years, chronicling a downward spiral of drugs and mental illness. The book covers Juliet’s two suicide attempts, medications, as well as stints in hospitals for “treatment.” Despite these measures, her problems continue. There’s extensive discussion of her history of self medication, mostly through drugs, reckless behaviors, and self harm.

This reads like memoir, but it is a novel. The more I got into this story, however, I didn’t really mind if it was true or not. Overall this book is a very raw reading experience–the more the drugs and the self harm went on, as a reader I became desensitized, much like Juliet’s response to “treatment.” I put treatment in quotes because there was considerable debate within myself while reading this whether it made her better or worse. Interspersed throughout the story are doctor’s prescriptions, pictures of relevant objects, and ‘notes’ from the author in the present day, reflecting on aspects of her past. I thought that inclusion was a beautiful touch.

The only thing I didn’t like about this novel is the fact that most people will have to wait until May to read this. When it does come out, however, do read it. 4.5 stars, highly recommended.

[Note: I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher, Melville House, and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.]