Journey to the Well: A Novel
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Civil War buff. For a Black man, it can make for a lonely endeavor, especially when traveling through battle sites where the war is often framed as a national tragedy instead of a reckoning. As the son of the master of Lockless plantation, he is spared from the fields and assigned as the main attendant of his half-brother, Maynard.
Coates has argued that for African Americans, the Civil War started way before , and this novel is a magical reimagining of that centuries-long fight for freedom. Its greatest strength is how it functions as a counter-myth to the supposed romanticism of the Antebellum South that has so propagated mainstream culture.
Gone With the Wind, anyone? His world-building of the decadent Virginia plantations is impeccable and comes with its own unique vocabulary, as a way to shake us out of our own complacent understanding of the time period. And no one is more vulgar than Maynard, a Trump-like figure who is a brutal takedown of the Mediocre White Man as we understand him today though even Maynard has more redeemable qualities than One of the deliciously satisfying elements of the novel is the parallel it creates between the past and the present.
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There are hints of the collapse of traditional industries, the ecological disasters of hyper-capitalism, and a particularly vivid scene in an abolitionist conference that speaks to all the unfulfilled promises of America. Family separation has long been the crime of choice in an America committed to white supremacy. The Water Dancer is insistent on how each severed tie represents a mortal blow to the principles the country is supposed to hold dear.
After a compelling beginning, the book flounders for several chapters before picking up steam again. As Hi tries to tap, control, and harness the power of Conduction, there are adventures, losses, triumphs, and setbacks for him and the ragtag team of abolitionists and freed men he meets.
It treads along like a long, self-indulgent battle sequence in one of the numerous Avengers movies out there. The dialogue can come off as stilted and expository, and the prose is interrupted with theoretical analyses that are intoxicating to read in essays but come off as pontification in fiction.
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And then, instead of withering into cynicism or inaction, he does the very best he can. Honoree: Bryan Washington, Lot: Stories.
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Nor would I want it to. Description: Ten stories exploring the lives of women, from dancers to plant physiologists, who are living their somewhat unconventional lives and looking for happiness. Spoiler: They do not all find it.
They fall in a kind of love with each other. Perhaps what matters is that they bother to make the effort at all. Each story pulses with electric writing, often humorous, but always full of authenticity and compassion. Already a subscriber?
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