These eight stories concern themselves with the making of thingsthe ways of which a man or his art can assume significant form. The first, set in 1855, shows an elderly farmer educating and imposing his own values on his African slave, inculcating the young man with an unacknowledged blood lust as well; the last deals with a sorcerer's apprentice who "studies beauty, who wishes to give it back," but doubts his capacity to do so. Johnson (Oxherding Tale and Faith and the Good Thing) need not have similar fears; his ability to conjure is awesome. Whether he is sending an earth doctor to minister to a space creature or readying a middle-aged postal worker for a karate championship, turning people into animals or the reverse, he is always convincing. His stories falter only when he attempts to infuse them with undigested dollops of dialectical material which seems more germane to the author's own knowledge of philosophy than to that of his characters. When spells as potent as these are cast, the stuff from which they are derived can remain in the conjurer's hat. February
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Reading Johnson, one thinks of Flannery O'Connor: there is the same sense of the grotesque, half comic, half tragic; the same jarring union of precise earthy detail and larger-than-life forces. These eight stories, previously published in journals, range widely in form. Throughout, the theme of black consciousness is subtly present, and often Johnson plays with the tension of different worlds in uncomfortable juxtaposition. True, this has unfortunate stylistic consequences at times, as when the mix of street talk and poetic eloquence doesn't quite work. Yet most of the storiesespecially the title pieceare deeply moving, and Johnson's verbal gifts are impressive. Despite minor flaws, then, a magnificent collection. Elise Chase, Forbes Lib., Northampton, Mass.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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