07 December 2009

John Henry Days

I confess to being awed by Colson Whitehead. This novel is just astonishing. I am pretty sure my mouth dropped open at several points. A sort of fantasia around the fictional release of a commemorative stamp honoring the folk hero John Henry, the book convincingly imagines a wide range of American lives--all the people associated with the festivities planned to launch the new stamp, including journalists, publicists, a small town's officials and citizens, assorted guests (such as a stamp collector and the daughter of a collector of John Henry-ana), and John Henry himself.

The book is full of really terrific writing: some of it satire, some of it straight-out storytelling, and some of it jaw-droppingly beautiful. I'm especially fond of a short section set at a fair, in which we observe individuals in the crowd from the inside as well as the outside (as though we're passing angels, as in Wings of Desire).

As I was reading this book, I thought, "This guy should get a genius prize." Turns out he did, in 2002.

Look forward to reading more of his work.

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