Published by William Morrow on February 17, 2015
Source: I purchased a copy of this book.
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Welcome to Braggsville. The City that Love Built in the Heart of Georgia. Population 712
Born and raised in the heart of old Dixie, D'aron Davenport finds himself in unfamiliar territory his freshman year at UC Berkeley. Two thousand miles and a world away from his childhood, he is a small-town fish floundering in the depths of a large, hyper-liberal pond. Caught between the prosaic values of his rural hometown and the intellectualized multicultural cosmopolitanism of Berzerkeley, the nineteen-year-old white kid is uncertain about his place until one disastrous party brings him three idiosyncratic best friends: Louis, a "kung-fu comedian" from California; Candice, an earnest do-gooder claiming Native roots from Iowa; and Charlie, an introspective inner-city black teen from Chicago. They dub themselves the "4 Little Indians."
But everything changes in the group's alternative history class, when D'aron lets slip that his hometown hosts an annual Civil War reenactment, recently rebranded "Patriot Days." His announcement is met with righteous indignation, and inspires Candice to suggest a "performative intervention" to protest the reenactment. Armed with youthful self-importance, makeshift slave costumes, righteous zeal, and their own misguided ideas about the South, the 4 Little Indians descend on Braggsville. Their journey through backwoods churches, backroom politics, Waffle Houses, and drunken family barbecues is uproarious to start, but will have devastating consequences.
With the keen wit of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and the deft argot of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, T. Geronimo Johnson has written an astonishing, razor-sharp satire. Using a panoply of styles and tones, from tragicomic to Southern Gothic, he skewers issues of class, race, intellectual and political chauvinism, Obamaism, social media, and much more.
A literary coming-of-age novel for a new generation, written with tremendous social insight and a unique, generous heart, Welcome to Braggsville reminds us of the promise and perils of youthful exuberance, while painting an indelible portrait of contemporary America.
Welcome to Braggsville follows an unconventional group of “four friends, four inseparable friends, four constant companions.” Daron, Louis, Charlie, and Candice connect with each other at extremely liberal UC Berkeley. They travel back to Louis’s tiny Georgia hometown (population 712) to protest its annual Civil War reenactment, and things go horribly wrong.
Georgia challenges and tests their friendship. In Berkeley, the friends’ diversity is almost a source of pride. In the small-town South, it starts to create waves between them for the first time.
Johnson has a very interesting writing style that took some getting used to. The perspective changes often, and even breaks the fourth wall to offer camaraderie with the reader. Johnson switches smoothly between third and second person. Usually second person annoys the heck out of me, but it’s surprisingly well done here. Once I settled into the style, I ended up really loving it. (Also, Johnson nails Southern culture, right down to little details like the Waffle House experience.)
The novel has the perfect backdrop for social commentary and satire. Johnson tackles not only extreme liberal/conservative views, which most of us see right through, but uncomfortable places in the middle as well, behaviors we might not have considered to be an issue at all. Johnson challenges readers to think more deeply.
In many places, I was reminded of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Like Scout, Daron’s worldview has shifted, expanded, after moving away from a small, insular hometown. And like Scout, Daron starts to see his upbringing in a different light once he returns home:
“He was of late suspicious of the longstanding wild divergences in the family’s accounts of history, of the entire town’s, really, of wrongheaded answers to unasked questions, of the subjectivity of it all.”
“As his mother spoke—this woman who he had always thought did not understand him—he feared, as he listened, that he in fact did not understand her, and the latter was more frightening.”
Welcome to Braggsville is as entertaining (and shocking) as it is thoughtful. Johnson’s unique style and ability to get at the heart of social issues turns this coming-of-age story into a powerful reading experience.