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NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

NEW MEMORIES OF THE OLD JIM CROW a review by Garrett Bridger Gilmore Danny Johnson. The Last Road Home. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp, 2016.

GARRETT BRIDGER GILMORE is a Chapel Hill, NC, native and currently a PhD candidate and Murray Krieger Fellow at the University of California-Irvine. His dissertation examines the uses of the memory of slavery in twentieth-century Southern literature. DANNY JOHNSON received the 2017 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for his first novel, The Last Road Home. His stories and essays have appeared most recently in South Writ Large and Fox Chase Review, and his short story “Ghost” was included in the Remembrances of Wars Past (Fox Track Publications, 2012), an anthology of veterans’ writing edited by Henry Tonn. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his story “Dancing With My Shadow” was named one of the 100 Best Stories of 2012 by Writer’s Digest. A Vietnam Veteran, the author is the recipient of the US Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross.

ABOVE Danny Johnson receiving the Sir

Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction at the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association’s awards banquet, Raleigh, 17 Nov. 2017; presented by Judith Williams, representing the Historical Book Club of North Carolina

1

Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006) 6.

PHOTOGRAPH BY LINDA FOX; COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson begins with a declaration of the endurance of slavery’s social relations: “On January 1, 1863, Congress enacted President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. One hundred years later, it was still the law of the land, but in the South it was more theory than reality” (n.p.). With this beginning, Johnson signals an affinity to growing trends in African American and Black Diasporic studies to think through what historian Saidiya Hartman in Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route calls “the afterlife of slavery”: “skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment.”1 Johnson, a white writer, works valiantly to represent a Southern whiteness totally immersed in racialized power relations, though The Last Road Home reaches limits for the understanding of slavery’s afterlife from and through white perspectives. Set in the 1950s and ’60s, The Last Road Home tells the story of the coming of age of Raeford “Junebug” Hurley, a white orphan living with his grandparents outside of Apex, NC. Though mostly focused on Junebug’s adolescence, the final third of the novel turns towards his future, including his military service in Vietnam and his sense of alienation upon his return to civilian life. Throughout the novel, Junebug is possessed of a kind of racial innocence that would be cloying in the hands of a less perceptive writer. Junebug gratifies contemporary sensibilities as an opponent of the Klan, but

he also struggles to sort out what ethical relationships might look like outside of the naked violence and exploitation of white supremacy. Junebug’s community consists of his grandparents and neighbors, the white Mr. and Mrs. Wilson and the Strouds, a black family. Johnson should be commended for the nuance in his depiction of the relationship between Junebug and Fancy Stroud, an interracial romance that could threaten to steamroll the novel’s moral center. The Last Road Home is meticulous in its acknowledgement of Fancy’s sexual precarity as a young black woman in the South, presenting the power imbalance in the relationship as something that Junebug and Fancy consciously work through together. Indeed, the novel’s conclusion refuses to use love as a panacea to racialized violence. The novel’s epilogue is perhaps the novel’s best stretch of writing, revealing a challengingly OPPOSITE RIGHT Postcard of the enlisted

men’s barracks at Camp Lejeune, NC

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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