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."Writing
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.
First of all, I have to say that I loved this book and pretty much everything about it. I think it's hilarious, dark, and as good a commentary on the present-day South as I've ever read. Johnson perfectly captures what it means to be a member of my generation in the rural South. More about that in a minute. Here, I want to address the writing style, which I think may turn off some readers. Johnson uses a very stream of consciousness style and deliberately omits punctuation, including dialogue markers. I'll admit that it took me a while to get into the book because I had to accustom myself to the style and it certainly made reading it more difficult. Once I was into the story, though, I found it easier to navigate and not as detrimental to holding my focus. I'm torn between how much I loved the book and the literary value I think it held and my desire to call this kind of technique a literary device. In this case, I'm giving it to the author as an homage to great works of Southern fiction by authors like Faulkner and saying that it works well for both the setting and the narrator.
I truly fell in love with the book when I realized how accurately it depicts life in the South - both the positives and negatives - and the ways in which my generation differs from the generations of our parents and grandparents. I worried that Johnson would paint a stereotyped portrait of the ignorant, racist South, but that's a far cry from what is actually in the book. It's true that the South's issues - racism, distrust of academia, clannishness - are all examined in the book. But in a balanced way that also skewers the PC culture that looks down on the South. My favorite aspect of the examination of Southern culture was the dichotomy that D'aron faces in knowing his parents and family to be good, loving people, but also being ashamed at times of their casual attitudes towards racism and culture.
This is an amazing piece of Southern fiction that skewers all cultural extremes and highlights the race and generation issues still facing the South, while maintaining a great amount of respect for its people. I can't say enough good things about the author's amazingly dark sense of humor and the depth of his cultural analysis, without sacrificing the telling of a great story. I highly recommend this to all fans of Southern literature as well as to those interested in the dynamics of the modern South or fans of dark humor. My one word of caution is to those who are put off by writing that can at times come across as gimicky, with the lack of dialogue tags and steam of consciousness style.
Thanks to TLC for allowing me to participate in the book tour for this amazing work!