Award-winning author Mitchell S. Jackson takes us inside the drug-ravaged neighborhood and struggling family of his youth, while examining the cultural forces—large and small—that led him and his family to this place.
Mitchell S. Jackson’s startling and inventive Survival Math ... is technically a memoir, [but] such a designation feels too narrow to encompass the bracing people’s history it delivers ... Moving back and forth through time, combining interviews of his subjects with first-person accounts from his own memory, Jackson’s book achieves the goal of taxonomizing the environment he grew up in ... By placing his own story within a longer historical lineage, Jackson has gone to great effort crafting a universal black narrative ... What differentiates Survival Math from that most common and banal of black narratives—the perseverance chronicle—is that Jackson doesn’t present himself as apart. He’s a willing-but-reluctant participant rather than a victim ... perhaps the most compelling cadre of voices may be the 'Survivor Files' ... Jackson situates these accounts in second-person, the you’s accumulating, then refracting in exhilarating and inquisitive ways. The form reads as a call for eradicating barriers, and asks for a degree of empathy rarely experienced, one that encompasses an entire humanity—flaws and all.
... vibrant ... Jackson recognizes there is too much for one conventional form, and his various storytelling methods imbue the book with an unpredictable dexterity. It is sharp and unshrinking in depictions of his life, his relatives (blood kin and otherwise), and his Pacific Northwest hometown, which serves as both inescapable character and villain ... One device Jackson uses to great effect are what he calls 'survivor files,' interviews with men in his family detailing their experiences with gangs, infidelity, and incarceration ... [Jackson's] virtuosic wail of a book reminds us that for a black person in America, it can never be that easy.
Jackson’s work is a model of autobiographical writing that demonstrates how reportage and critical attention to the complexities of black life — its intersectional textures — can be the source material for an inimitable memoir ... Throughout Survival Math, Jackson writes with a keen attentiveness to the social contexts shaping the lives of his family, offering nuanced depictions that upend the stereotypes that often cage us in ... Jackson, like his contemporary Kiese Laymon, author of the recent memoir Heavy, has produced a work that faces this task head on ... Survival Math makes it clear that blackness is never a deficit. And yet as Jackson reminds us, even those of us who are black men must be certain not to rely on a computational system, steeped in anti-black racist patriarchy, to save ourselves while harming others.