Book Review: Review: Loving Day
Mat Johnson's new novel is all there in black and white
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., June 19, 2015
The last novel Mat Johnson wrote before he wrote Loving Day was called Pym. Because we greatly enjoyed Pym's unique blend of racial-identity exploration, literary and cultural critique, and hilarious buddy-movie fantasy thriller set in the frozen wasteland of Antarctica, we were ready to follow the author just about anywhere.
In Loving Day, we follow him to present-day Philadelphia where, in the heart of the heaviest African-American section of the city, his protagonist Warren Duffy has inherited a dilapidated mansion once owned by his recently deceased white father and black mother. Duffy's moving into this mansion because ... well, what else can he do now that his marriage to a Welsh woman has disintegrated, his comic-book shop in Wales has failed, and he's on his last financial legs? What can he do but take possession of the mansion (which may be, um, haunted?) and also take possession of the shambles his life's become?
Things get even more complicated when Duffy is signing some of his creations at a comic-book convention and he meets a teenage girl who happens to be – surprise! – his daughter; and she's been raised to think she's white, and she isn't exactly thrilled to be anyone's daughter.
You can see the ingredients gathering for an excellent story about fathers and daughters, blacks and whites, the experience of living a mixed-race identity – and maybe about the efficacy of trying to refurbish an old house that's definitely haunted by something. That's what Johnson delivers in the manner to which we've become accustomed: thoroughly, thoughtfully, and with the seriousness of the situation generously leavened with humor. (Note: The humor often results from Duffy's skewed perspectives on race, familial responsibility, comic-creating, fate, and especially himself. Note: The humor had this reviewer howling, at times, and occasionally quoting passages to his wife – which left her laughing, too.)
Sirleaf Day is carpeted in cloth. He's got a Kenyan dashiki, Sudanese mudcloth pants, and a little Ghanian kente hat. It's like Africa finally united, but just in his wardrobe.
In these hardbound pages, you'll learn if Duffy enrolls his newfound daughter at a charter school for fiercely African identity or at a quasi-charter school that's trying to establish, it seems, a sort of mixed-race utopia in the midst of Philadelphia – both institutions giving our hero a diversity of pains in the cultural-tolerance gland. You'll know if Duffy ever hooks up with the gorgeous woman he meets first at the comic con, then again at one of those problematic schools. You'll find out if his father's ramshackle mansion is somehow restored to its former glory, and if the attached ghosts are, shit, are they dangerous? And you'll see if the emotionally self-sabotaging Duffy can ever get over himself long enough to do what has to be done.
Once again, Mat Johnson has brought the world a story that it needs to hear and which deftly entertains as it informs. Once again, color us impressed.