Thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, mind drifting and feeling nervous, on his way to school before he—a stammerer—is required to give a public recitation (from David Mitchell's novel, Black Swan Green, set in England in the early 1980s):
Outside was blowy and wet, like a rain machine was aimed over Black Swan Green. Kingfisher Meadows was all rain-stained walls, dripping bird tables, wet gnomes, swilling ponds and shiny rockeries. A moon-grey cat watched me from Mr Castle’s dry porch. Wished there was some way a boy could turn into a cat. I passed the bridleway stile. If I was Grant Burch or Ross Wilcox or any of the council house kids from down Wellington End, I’d just skive off and hop over that stile and follow the bridleway to wherever it went. Even see if it leads to the lost tunnel under the Malvern Hills. But kids like me just can’t. Mr Kempsey’d notice straight off that I was absent on my dreaded form-assembly day. Mum’d be phoned by morning break. Mr Nixon’d get involved. Dad’d be called out of his Wednesday meeting. Truant officers and their sniffer dogs’d be put on my trail. I’d get captured, interrogated, skinned alive, and Mr Kempsey’d still make me read a passage from Plain Prayers for a Complicated World.
Once you think about the consequences, you’ve had it.
By the Black Swan girls were clustered under umbrellas. Boys can’t use umbrellas ’cause they’re gay. (’Cept for Grant Burch, that is, who stays dry by getting his servant Philip Phelps to bring a big golfing umbrella.)
This is my favorite Mitchell novel. You don't see the scaffolding in this one like you do, intentionally so, in many of his others, though if you look carefully enough you will see some planking and an odd metal pole or two that will lead you back Cloud Atlas or Ghostwritten. But it's not the absence of visible structure that makes the book so compelling. For me, it's Jason Taylor's voice (How often have I wished to disappear the way Jason Taylor wishes he could become that moon-grey cat?) and how Mitchell can capture a thirteen-year-old boy's voice so perfectly with words crafted in a way no thirteen-year-old possibly could. And, yes, writers do this kind of magic act all the time with first-person narration. At least the good ones do. The writing is stylized but the style summons the character rather than swamping him. The style conjures up the character's voice so clearly that you forget that it is style that is making this all happen. The strings vanish.