Geronimo Johnson’s first novel, Hold It ‘Til It Hurts, was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction and earned the author a slew of fans among book critics. His follow up, Welcome to Braggsville, proves that the immensely talented writer was just getting warmed up.
Johnson’s latest is satire so sharp you’d get paper cuts even if you read this one wearing gloves. The book centers around D’aron Davenport, born and raised in the sleepy, rural “The South Will Rise Again” town of Braggsville, GA. Smart and a tad sensitive, never a good mix for someone living in a town where being different is far from a virtue, Davenport sees his escape plan in the form of a scholarship to UC Berkley, a school half way across the country and decades away from his hometown racially and politically. At the school he forms a tight bond with an eclectic group of freshman including his Asian-American roommate Louis, who’s goal in life is to be a stand-up comic (a “Kung Fu comedian” as he tells everyone who will listen); Charlie, a black kid from inner-city Chicago, gifted in sports and academics and Candice, the liberal, always looking-for-a-cause, child of professors from Iowa.
The foursome are inseparable and looking to earn extra credit descent on Davenport’s childhood town of Braggsville to try and launch a 2015-style, wildly ill-planned protest of the local Civil War reenactment via Twitter and Facebook. Johnson’s writing style, his phonetic dialogue and rhythm take a little getting used to, but once the reader catches up, the book is well worth the investment of time. Smart, wickedly sharp and biting, Welcome to Braggsville is a brilliantly inventive exploration of race, culture, politics and preconceptions. No way of thinking – left, right or center – is immune to Johnson’s probing.
Remarkably original and deeply satisfying, from the nuanced plot to the compelling character, every single one of them, Johnson has created a work of fiction that’s going to be difficult to surpass on his next outing.
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson/Hardcover, 384 pages/William Morrow/2015