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John Henry Days Paperback – May 14, 2002
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Following on the heels of Whitehead's widely praised debut, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days won't disappoint anyone who delighted in the first 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 caliber, of course, much can be forgiven. But one is eager to see Whitehead quit riffing and make an emotional investment in his characters. The result will be fiction that engages the heart as well as the head. --Mary Park --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
More About the Author
His next book, a non-fiction account of the 2011 World Series of Poker, is called The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death. It will be published in 2014.
Top Customer Reviews
The best scenes in my mind were those that played with the John Henry theme more closely. The others seemed to be flights of fancy. Inticing sometimes, but straying wide of the mark on other occasions. Whitehead seemed to have taken Ellison's "Invisible Man" from his underground chamber and brought him to light in a comtemporary setting. John Henry Days seemed like the perfect foil, but Whitehead didn't go very far beyond character sketches. This novel read like a reporter's notebook, a novel in progress, not a full length work of fiction. As such, it left me a little disappointed.
But this is not a traditional novel, and we find out in the first twenty pages that a catastrophic killing spree occurs during the festivities, probably ending those hopes. In just a few more pages, we also know who the shooter is, and there are still more than 300 pages to go! Filling these pages are a cast of characters ranging from John Henry himself to his modern alterego, J. Sutter, a "junketeer"/freelance writer covering John Henry Days, along with postal employees, representatives of publicity firms, collectors of memorabilia, researchers into John Henry's life, songwriters, stamp collectors, and local "experts" and politicians. These provide Whitehead with innumerable venues for gentle satire, moments of warmth and sensitivity, and a serious exploration of themes.
More a meditation on race, the growth of legends, the role of the press, and the lure of dreams than a narrative, the novel is almost plotless, yet I found it an absolute delight to read, a book hard to put down, filled with moving and eloquent scenes that echo long after the book is finished. This is largely due to Whitehead's humor and his obvious goal of entertaining his readers, despite his weighty themes.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Colson Whitehead is one of the best writers of the new millennium. His writing style is distinctive, entertaining, and artistic without ever getting academically erudite. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
I was really disappointed as I very much liked the Intuitionist. I planned to give this as a present to someone, but first I wanted to read it. Read morePublished 3 months ago by suefein
After 100 pages I gave up. This was a selection for our community book club. It is the most disjointed story I have ever read. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Walt
characters and story take back seat to writing style i can't see appealing to many.Published 9 months ago by 1thru5
The reader will find very original and perceptive descriptions of people, situations and inanimate object. A quirky, but somehow believable plot with great 3-D characters. Read morePublished 14 months ago by J. T. Moran
I bought this book for a friend who wanted a copy but his computer was crashed. He said it was a good read and that he enjoyed it very much.Published on June 20, 2013 by Janelle E. Bohrod
Whitehead has a really distinctive and bitingly insightful voice. The narration style is a little odd to allow his voice to shine through an omniscient third person narrator, but... Read morePublished on May 28, 2013 by Sean Meehan
This was a required reading for an African American Literature course. I didn't know what to expect.
I found it extremely well written. Read more
John Henry Days is written in an interesting narrative style. It shows us events through the lens of multiple characters, some repeatedly visited, others glimpsed just once or... Read morePublished on May 7, 2012 by Roy L. Pickering