“This is essential reading for Angelenos, Californians, and anyone interested in masterly, morally engaged storytelling.” — Publishers Weekly
Johnson’s (Elsewhere, California, 2012) superb short story collection features well-drawn characters, vivid descriptions of Los Angeles, and nuanced reflections on money, race, and family. The stories stand alone, but they share preoccupations, and sometimes settings. In the title story, Dean Wilkerson tries to make his mother see the beauty of his historic downtown apartment building, the Pacific Electric Lofts. She wishes he lived somewhere more private and farther from Skid Row. In “Because That’s Just Easier,” a mother’s doubts about moving downtown resurface when her six-year-old daughter is upset by encounters with homeless people and, heartbreakingly, by her inability to help them. In “Buildings Talk,” a tenant at the Pacific Electric facing rent hikes and gentrification asks, “Where are people supposed to go? Where do they go? Does it really come down, always, to the cold, cold, hard, hard, cash? I know. Where have I been?” Johnson never loses sight of what it can mean to be from somewhere, especially for African-Americans. In the excellent “The Liberace Museum,” Charlotte and the man she loves take a detour on their way to Los Angeles so she can meet his parents in Jackson, Miss. Many characters study their surroundings for clues about the past, and history comes to the forefront in Johnson’s tour de force closer, “The Story of Biddy Mason.” This is essential reading for Angelenos, Californians, and anyone interested in masterly, morally engaged storytelling.
An insightful collection of stories that paint diverse portraits of present-day Los Angeles.
— Publishers Weekly
Johnson (Elsewhere, California, 2012) exposes the deep ruptures between her characters’ relationships to one another, their surroundings, and their pasts. In “Rogues,” J.J., a broke college student, clashes with his older brother, Kenny. Kenny laughs off J.J.’s more idealistic worldview. “Sorry College,” he says after J.J. critiques his use of the n-word as a man of color. Later, Kenny states more bluntly, “Well Obama don’t live in this neighborhood, do he?” This question resonates as the story examines the consequences of race and racism on their lives. In the title story, Dean is haunted by the city’s past and the knowledge that he, too, will belong to the past one day. As he sits with his mother on the roof deck of his building in downtown Los Angeles, he imagines the city before he lived in it. Downtown has gotten nice, his mother notes. It’s all cleaned up. “And by all cleaned up,” Dean thinks, “she means, of people.” In “The Story of Biddy Mason,” Johnson’s timeline is widest and creates the most powerful view of the palimpsest of this American city. We see Los Angeles as it was shaped by two people in history: a white man from “good stock” who was a railroad magnate and art collector and a former slave who walked from Mississippi to California, where she became a philanthropist and founded a church. We end with an arresting second-person perspective that shows us the Los Angeles we might see today and what, if anything, we’d experience of those who came before us. The city doesn’t figure prominently in every story in the collection, but the themes of race, perspective, and history carry through.
Eleven poignant stories that look to the past to portray the present.
— Kirkus Review
“There is an exquisite tension in each of the stories in Dana Johnson’s remarkable collection – couples who look past each other instead of into each other, women who try to negotiate upward mobility, wanting what you can’t have and having what you don’t want. Johnson has, truly, written an unforgettable collection. She is both a storyteller and an exacting observer of the beautiful ugly truths of Los Angeles, class, race, being alive.”
— Roxane Gay, author of An Untamed State and Bad Feminist
“Newer than tomorrow, the stories in In the Not Quite Dark illuminate the travails of contemporary life faced with aspects of gentrification – social, economic, racial, even sexual. Johnson is the poet of the uneasy place between rising and falling, the pressures of status and humiliation, the precarious moral footing we are all navigating now. A sharp-edged portrait of Los Angeles, and ourselves.”
— Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black
“In her brilliant collection, Dana Johnson presents a vision of America that is singular and necessary. These are superb stories grappling with the complexities of love and the way it winds through gender and race and class in our nation right now. Johnson is expert at exploring how the world tries to separate us – and how her characters find urgent ways to connect. These are stories radiant with beauty and compassion and clear-sighted, uncompromising wisdom.”
— Karen E. Bender, author of Refund, a finalist for the National Book Award.
“What a gift to have a new collection of hard-to-shake stories from the inimitable Dana Johnson. She writes about the contradictions of our contemporary moment with an honesty that is gimlet-eyed, rueful, and often wickedly funny. But along with implacable honesty there are also deep reserves of generosity in these stories, each one taking our hearts to places we don’t see coming and can’t readily forget.
— Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, author of Ms. Hempel Chronicles, a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award
“In these haunting and beautiful stories, Dana Johnson conjures a definitive portrait of contemporary Los Angeles. Her native eye is infallible, and her voice reigns over the city with grace, wit, and total authority.”
— Jim Gavin, author of Middle Men