I’m currently reading Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days, a book which I’m gratified to learn is a marked improvement over The Intuitionist.
Now it’s time for a digression to explain that brick I just dropped. The Intuitionist is a very complex book in which Whitehead skillfully integrates several different ideas. If you’d like detailed proof of this, see this essay by Michael B√©rub√©.
I don’t deny that in his first book Whitehead brought a lot to the table and handled it all well. It would be wrong to call The Intuitionist bad, just like it would be wrong to call Cloud Atlas bad. Both are very good books, but neither leaves the reader with the feeling that they’ve covered much ground. I can enjoy The Intuitionist as a well-built piece of literature, but it’s not an entertainment that provokes my mind with startling thoughts. It’s somewhat like reading a garden-variety liberal Op-Ed: yes, it’s a soothing read, but it lulls more than excites.
I’m glad to report that, thus far, John Henry Days augments the skill I found in The Intuitionist with some truly original thoughts. The book is about a group of beyond-sardonic, grizzled freelancers on a press junket to Virginia to cover a backwater festival called John Henry Days. The Post Office is releasing a series of stamps for "American Folk Heros" and the John Herny festival is to commemorate the release of that folkhero’s stamp.
Of course, the freelancers take it all as a big joke. All except one of them are there for the free food and to get together and screw around. The one who is writing up the event, J. (our main character), is doing so for a website and derisively talks about how he can excrete this "content" in a couple hours.
It is through this junket that Whitehead explores pop culture, J.’s fall from youthful idealism to thirtysomething morass, race in America, and, perhaps most thoroughly, the seeming pointless of existence in millennial America. This book is written in a bone-dry tone that befits its extremely bleak characters and almost tragic world-view. It’s an eminently dark read, and it’s also an extremely thoughtful one, with a couple of compelling characters that form the backbone of a depressing story.
You Might Also Like:
More from Conversational Reading:
- TEV at Wallace Reading Even though TEV claims not to like his fiction (say it ain’t so), he was on the scene at the latest DFW reading. TEV provides...
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.