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Dr. King's Refrigerator: And Other Bedtime Stories Paperback – November 5, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Sages squabble, philosophers deliberate and kings dream in this collection of eight short stories by National Book Award–winner Johnson (Middle Passage, etc.). Like fairy tales for policy-minded grownups, the stories revolve around ethical and philosophical decision making. In "Executive Decisions," the head of a Seattle company ponders which of two candidates to hire for an important post. The easy favorite is a white woman, capable and personable; the other contender is a tense, watchful black man, who knows "firsthand and through research... the contributions from people of color." In the end, the narrator's decision hinges on a revelation about the role of a black woman in his own white father's past. Though wooden in conception (like many of these stories), the tale comes to life at its ambiguous ending. Johnson's longer, more carefully fleshed out stories are most effective. In "The Gift of the Osuo," the king of a 17th-century African tribe is given a magic chalk that allows him to draw anything and make it come to life. The things he draws resemble "not the Real, but the Real transfigured," and it's the magic of this vision that transforms an otherwise ordinary fable. The didactic flatness of most of the other entries—including the title story, in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. finds inspiration in lettuce and grapefruit—isn't quite obscured by occasional bursts of inventive language and insight.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Critics have decidedly mixed reviews for Johnson’s third short story collection. Johnson, who teaches at the University of Washington and was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant, wrote most of these stories for the Washington Commission for the Humanities. The majority read like fiction exercises; most critics praise them only as simple “bedtime stories” with little underlying depth. The few challenging entries-most notably “Kwoon” and “The Gift of the Osuo”-are much more successful (and have been previously anthologized). Unlike the clever set-ups and quick pay-offs of the shortest stories here, these two tales demonstrate the author’s considerable-if sometimes hidden-talent.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The other stories are also highly entertaining and often very enlightening, reinvigorating the myth of the ugly toad turned prince, and delving with brilliance into an encounter between two karate practicioners. Dr. Johnson himself has a black belt in karate, is a practicing Buddhist, and publishes in Shamballah magazine
These stories are a fflatout treat, wondrous to behold.
One story portrays a future world where dreams are taxed. Another is a fictional account of a night in the life of Martin Luther King. Still another deals with sensitivity to other cultures. The last story, my favorite of the collection, explores the issue of what is true courage.
Author Charles Johnson writes in an edgy, hard-bitten manner, sometimes trying just a little too hard. The stories are easy to read, in no sense polished or "literary." Each story shocks or disturbs, makes one think. That seems to be their purpose. I'm glad I read this little book. If you like adult fables and allegories, you may like this collection. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
The Sorceror's Apprentice was an early work, when Johnson still had not primarily gotten known as a novelist, and seemed to really indulge the craft of short story writing. One senses that these were stories he had been working on for a long time. Think of how many rock bands have a first album that's great, because they've spent years on the road perfecting their tunes. Then they hurry up and put out a second album that's garbage. Well, when Johnson released Soulcatcher, twenty-one years later, that was not an issue, but thosee tales did not stem from Johnson's own artistic desire, rather a request he had to write a dozen short stories, in different forms and formats, as a companion book to a PBS television series. And it shows, for while the best of those tales are good, the rest seem to be pre-fabricated form with random storytelling squirted in to fit a mold. Then we come to his latest collection, and these seem to be a rather haphazard assortment of unrelated tales (rather than a real collection or book) that were culled from a variety of sources, and also written on request for assorted occasions. Ask yourself, how many Occasional poems or songs really turn out well? Ditto for these tales. They simply never evolve naturally or organically from their conceptions nor conceits.... Even if one tries to find mitigation of these simplistic stories in the book's subtitle, there is little to be had, as- in terms of depth, they do not rise to the depths that the fables and fairy tales of yore held, where much subtext and psychologically archetypal depth was limned. There simply is no subtlety in these tales, and little to entice a second reading. Johnson has a point to make, and he hammers them home- which fits in nicely with my belief that, since these were made to order stories, they have made to order messages. There are also too many affectations- such as the quoting of statistics, or the use of tired tropes like a tale's all being a dream in the end, to lift this collection up from merely being passable to anything approaching the transcendent. For those who are seeking out Johnson's work, as recommended by others, pass on this book, or you may likely never believe that he is capable of transcendent prose. Seek out and read any of his novels, but most especially start with Oxherding Tale, as it is the sine qua non of Johnsonian thought, and one of the best books ever published in America. This work is unfortunately pedestrian, at best- a 65-70 on a scale of 100. Solid for a beginner, but a great disappointment for fans of his novels that will be read in a century or more.
Again, I have to pin the failing on the fact that none of these tales seems to have been a thing that emerged from an artistic necessity to divulge something, but a request to do so. Hence, the book's tales often seem like coloring inside the lines, rather than a picture drawn from the gut. The structure is often anomic, the tales lack any demiurge, and their flatness reveals a formulaic bent, rather than an artist at the top of his game, bending the art to his needs by sheer force of talent and will. Simply taking a stance- that one is not PC, or one has depth, is not enough. The message, if there is going to be simply one, as a bedtime story implies and entails, has to essentially explicated within the story, not merely explicated as the story. Thus, Dr. King's Refrigerator, And Other Bedtime Stories stands as the sort of middle ground work that artists often produce in between greater works, as a salve to a public that awaits something better coming. Here's hoping that the next book from Johnson will be just such a work, on the order of his greatest novels. This collection, however, we fans can rationalize as....ah, perchance to dream! gone wrong.