A sharp debut by a writer with wit and confidence.

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MY MONTICELLO

Stories centered on racism and Virginia, anchored by a dystopian tale set in Thomas Jefferson’s home.

The title novella that closes Johnson’s debut book is stellar and could easily stand on its own. Plainly inspired by the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Johnson imagines a near future in which an “unraveling” has forced some of the town’s brown and Black residents to find safety on Jefferson’s homestead. The narrator, a University of Virginia student named Da’Naisha, is a descendant of Jefferson and Sally Hemings and used to have an internship on the Monticello grounds. She’s well aware of the irony of taking cover on a former plantation, but she has more pressing issues: She’s pregnant, uncertain of the father, and her grandmother is suffering from asthma but lacks medicine. In depicting Da'Naisha's attempts to organize her fellow refugees to fend off an impending attack from marauding racists, Johnson crafts a fine-grained character study that also harrowingly reveals how racist violence repeats. Not all of the remaining stories have the same force, but Johnson has a knack for irony and inventive conceits. “Buying a House Ahead of the Apocalypse” is a story in the form of a checklist, suggesting all the ways that pursuing a sense of security can be products of self-delusion (“Never mind the dark-skinned guard who wouldn’t even let you in…”). And the opening “Control Negro” is narrated by a man who uses his son to study whether a Black man who's “otherwise equivalent to those broods of average American Caucasian males” could transcend racism. In a few taut pages, Johnson uses the setup to explore not just institutional racism, but fatherhood, fatalism, policing, and social engineering. “How does anyone know if they are getting more or less than they deserve?” the narrator asks, a question the story makes both slippery and plain as day.

A sharp debut by a writer with wit and confidence.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-80715-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

THE RAVAGED

This debut novel from Walking Dead actor Reedus follows three thematically connected yet narratively unrelated people as they journey to find themselves.

Hunter, a heavily tatted Iraq War vet and self-proclaimed gearhead, attacks his boss at the bike shop after catching him kicking a dog. “Hunter was old school,” the narrator says, rough-hewn but with strong moral fiber and a heart of gold. After learning his father died in a “mysterious house fire” in California, Hunter hops on his Buell S1 motorcycle alongside his buddies Nugget and Itch for a cross-country haul to execute the will. Meanwhile, a wealthy 65-year-old executive named Jack is mugged while traveling aimlessly through South America, neither the first nor the last of his hardships. Jack abandoned his cushy, bloodless office lifestyle after his dying mother told him to “run and never look back,” words he continuously labors to unpack. Finally, Anne, an abused teenage girl in Tennessee, steals her father’s savings and .38 revolver and runs away from home, clobbering her brother upside the head with a cast-iron skillet when he tries to stop her. She connects with her friend Trot, and they join a community of train-hoppers. Co-written by Bill, the story reads like a pastiche of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the latter of which is name-dropped as “great” by multiple characters. Though occasionally hitting some beautiful imagery of the American heartland, Reedus falls victim to implausible dialogue—“Fabiola, you are reading me like a stock report,” Jack says—and overcooked language: “flesh the color of a high-dollar medium-roast coffee bean.” Frequently wordy summaries do little to develop the thinly sketched characters; we know nearly as much about them on Page 25 as on Page 250.

A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-09-416680-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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