Reviewed by Meghan Utter
by Michael T. Fournier
Three Rooms Press
2014. 239 pgs. $15.95. ISBN 978-1-941110-08-9
Michael T. Fournier’s second novel Swing State explores the effects of poverty and the resulting domestic violence. How may the citizens of Armbrister, New Hampshire, an economically depressed town, persevere? The three characters of the book attempt to find their answers, and in doing so reveal the complex underpinnings of American disenfranchisement.
Composed entirely from chapters representing three, distinct points of view, the novel follows protagonists Roy, Dixon and Zach. Reflecting Fournier’s wise decisions, each character has a different narrative style. Readers may initially feel thrown off by the first chapter, written from Roy’s perspective, with its choppy sentence fragments. Soon, however, they understand how Roy’s diction reflects his character. His thoughts, plagued by war, fracture: “You gain stature. College if you want. GI bills. Grants.” Dixon’s segments appear in the form of transcripts from a stolen tape recorder, showing her preoccupation with her struggles to escape Armbrister: “Okay, this was just sitting there on the front seat… Ding woulda given me a few M-80s or whatever for this… But I’d rather get paid. Then I can get my own place.” By contrast, Zachariah’s chapters follow omniscient, third person narration, reflecting his own interest in telling stories: “Zachariah Tietz wrote game shows. Portions of them anyway.” Fournier expertly transitions among these techniques, illuminating each character’s psyche through a distinctive style.
Fournier packs this book with many serious issues, including mental illness and school safety. Roy struggles from PTSD from his service in Afghanistan. Now, something as seemingly innocuous as an AC/DC song can trigger a flashback: “‘You Shook Me All Night Long’… She was fast oh god machine driving Peck his head keep it together. Follow the steps do your job she kept the motor clean…” The author represents both sides of bullying, showing Dixon as the tormentor and Zachariah as the victim. Physical abuse enters the novel, as both Dixon and Zachariah’s parental figures beat them. Though these concerns leave the novel with little room for joy, these topics lend weight and significance to the story. Fournier handles complex situations with delicacy and respect, not reducing anyone to a stereotype or joke.
One of the book’s more powerful themes concentrates on the power of desire. A deep desire drives each character and shapes action. Roy walks miles to and from his friend’s garage and endures the Veteran’s Affairs office, so he can find a stable job, now that he has been discharged. Dixon, who used to steal from cars to get fireworks, now trades her stolen goods for cash, so she can get out of Armbrister. Zachariah believes he has supernatural “powers” that can make his desires a reality, highlighting his desperation to have some control over his own life. In keeping with his focus on the gritty, the characters find little to lift them from the realities of daily life.
The unique writing style and sympathetic characters found in Swing State create an intriguing read. Fournier draws potent scenes depicting their struggles – returning from war, finding acceptance and approval, and asserting their own independence. Although each character has a unique story to tell, Fournier deftly interweaves and connects their lives until they come together in the explosive conclusion.
About the reviewer: Meghan Utter is 21 years old, a senior at The Pennsylvania State University. She is pursuing a major in English and two minors in Psychology and Technical Writing. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in publishing.