Travelling into the backwoods of West Virginia to write a piece on the unveiling of the new John Henry postage stamp and the ensuing John Henry Days festival, J. continues his nearly record-setting, three-month junket binge. But when he begins to choke on a piece of prime rib at a press dinner, shadows from the past are summoned forth and he leaves the mountain a changed man.
Colson Whitehead is the author of the critically acclaimed, QPB New Voices Award-winning novel, The Intuitionist. Narrated by Peter Jay Fernandez, John Henry Days is both an ingenious retelling of the American legend of John Henry and a fascinating look into the world of contemporary journalism.
"Masterfully composed and full of myth and magic....deftly skewering the absurdities of the information age." (Booklist)
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- Lora S.
This was actually a very well-constructed book.
It tells two main stories. One is the author’s rendition of the story of John Henry himself. The other is the story of a young reporter, J. Sutton. But there are also fragments of other stories included – some rather long, others very short. Many, but not all of these auxiliary stories feature people who have some relationship to one of the variations of the John Henry ballad. These auxiliary stories are woven tightly in among the main narrative passages to enhance the meditations offered on the importance of folk heroes in general and John Henry in particular.
A segment at the beginning of the book, supposedly information received from around the country by someone researching the real history behind the ballad, indicates that it is probably nearly impossible to determine the facts of John Henry’s story with any degree of accuracy. So, the John Henry story Colson Whitehead tells us is as likely as any of them.
The story behind J.’s involvement with John Henry begins with the U.S. Post Office issuing a set of stamps commemorating four American Legends in 1996. John Henry is one of the legends being commemorated. The small West Virginia town where, according to one version of the legend, the celebrated contest between John Henry and the steam drill took place, needing a boost for the local tourism industry, is holding a celebration – sort of a fair – that they call John Henry Days which they are thinking of making an annual event, in conjunction with the launching of the stamp. J., whose professional life has gravitated toward covering similar events, has accepted a request to report on this one. Although it doesn’t look like it at first, J. does ultimately learn a lot from his experience. But is it enough to save him?
Good narration overall.