The Night Tommy Swanson Died (Review)

My expectations about YouTuber Jack Merridew’s third short book were spot on. The book is a macabre commentary on growing up gay in America. The Night Tommy Swanson Died is a more eloquent offering than his first book Fireworks Over Suburbia and his second book Teenage Idol. This third book can be taken more seriously because Merridew shows growth as a young writer.

The 26-year-old has groomed himself into a popular YouTube personality with a target audience of young gay males. (He is also popular with older gays.) He is a self-styled LGBT activist and, as mentioned, an author.

The YouTuber/author was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in screenwriting. Before gaining popularity on YouTube, Merridew was a cashier at the Wegman’s grocery store in his hometown. Jack Merridew is his pseudonym, he keeps his actual name private.

Merridew posted his first YouTube video in 2012 and quickly achieved popularity. As of the time of this posting, he has 300 videos and more than 366,000 subscribers. His video content is somewhat risqué and can be humorously morbid. However, he has released several videos about serious topics.

The thumbnail bio of Jack Merridew is important because it gives background into the nature of his writing. For this reason, it is difficult to pigeonhole The Night Tommy Swanson Died neatly into a genre. The short book is an artistic-macabre coming of age story about early adolescence. The tone of the book matches the mood on some of Jack Merridew’s horror-themed videos but with a more somber feel.

The story takes place in an alternate version of the United States in the 1950s. The story’s protagonist “Hunter” describes a bleak, blood-soaked culture. Blood-red colors predominate the vision–even suburban lawns are spray-painted red.

The culture enforces the age of leaving childhood behind when kids turn 13-years-old. That norm is strictly enforced by sadistic people wearing frightening clown masks. There is a carnival that comes to town each year for all the townsfolk to attend.

It is mandatory that all the 13-year-olds visit the carnival and they must visit a particularly horrific tent. The names of each 13-year-old who visits the tent are recorded in a ledger, any 13-year-old who fails to visit the tent is terrorized into submission. That said, kids who visit the tent are traumatized. Their childhood comes to an end and they are required to conform to the dominant culture.

Early in the book, the reader finds out that when Hunter was ten-years-old, he felt attracted to the twelve-year-old boy who mowed his family’s lawn–Tommy Swanson. After Swanson turns 13, Swanson attends the carnival and goes through the much dreaded tent. Then he commits suicide. The spiritual essence of Swanson shows up as a supporting character throughout the rest of the book.

Any reader who never belonged to the popular clique in school, especially if the reader is LGBT, will recognize the stern parents who enforced cultural norms to the letter along with the mean-spirited bullies. The cultural norms of the story make little logical sense. Hunter and Tommy Swanson’s apparition, are misfits who don’t belong in the twisted, insane, blood-soaked culture.

The Night Tommy Swanson Died is a good, short book. I couldn’t find any portion of it that dragged or was non-essential to the storyline. If you are LGBT or have ever been ostracized for any reason, you’ll relate to Hunter in Merridew’s story.

There are some minor elementary shortcomings in the book, but Merridew’s writing style and the story itself give the reader an engaging, mysterious, intriguing coming of age tale. For those of us who enjoy off-the wall mysteries, Jack Merridew’s book is worth reading.

{The Night Tommy Swanson Died by Jack Merridew; 181 pages paperback and Kindle editions; Published January 1, 2019 ISBN-10: 1790551749 ISBN-13: 978-1790551743 }

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Jack Merridew. “There is a whole world out there that will love you exactly as you come. You just need to find the right people.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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