John Henry Days Book

Colson Whitehead's second novel, John Henry Days, posits a folk anti-hero for the information age: junketeer and puff-piece-writing man J Sutter. For his latest assignment, this freelance hack is sent to Talcott, West Virginia, to cover its John Henry Days festival and the unveiling of the USPS's John Henry stamp. Sutter hasn't devoted much thought to American mythology lately or to the epic struggle of man versus machine or to anything else besides padding his expense account and cadging free drinks. Still, our hero is engaged in a private contest of his own in which he plans to attend a PR event every single day. Alas, this journalistic obstacle course threatens to eradicate Sutter's soul, just as the folkloric steam shovel eradicated John Henry's body. Whitehead cuts back and forth between eras and exploits. And what begins as a media-saturated satire soon turns into a jazzy, expansive meditation on man, machine, nature, race, history, myth and pop culture--in short, on America, as expressed through the story of (who else?) a former slave. Following on the heels of The Intuitionist, Whitehead's widely praised debut, John Henry Days won't disappoint anyone who delighted in that book's wonderfully quirky writing or its complex allegories of race. The historical set pieces here dazzle and the author casts a withering eye on our media-driven culture: "Since the days of Gutenberg, an ambient hype wafted the world, throbbing and palpitating. From time to time, some of that material cooled, forming bodies of dense publicity." Still, these brilliant parts don't necessarily add up to a satisfying whole. Whitehead writes the kind of smart, allusive, highly wrought prose that is impressive sentence by sentence. Over the course of 400 pages though, it can be somewhat daunting; it's a bit like eating a meal in which each of the seven courses comes topped with hollandaise sauce. Worse, some of the characters' motivations remain abstract, as if the author hovered so far above his creations that their foibles struck him as simple absurdities. In a novel of this calibre, of course, much can be forgiven. But one is eager to see Whitehead make an emotional investment in his characters. The result will be fiction that engages the heart as well as the head. --Mary Park, Amazon.comRead More

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  • 1841155691
  • 9781841155692
  • Colson Whitehead
  • 4 June 2001
  • Fourth Estate
  • Paperback (Book)
  • 400

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