Books

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

Nonfiction

Leaving Before the Rains Come

Alexandra Fuller, Penguin Press, 272 pages

It’s rare that a life can bear more than one, let alone three, memoirs, but such is the power of Alexandra Fuller’s story – and her way of telling it. In her first book, 2001’s “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,” Fuller wrote of her eccentric upbringing in Africa, with boozy British expat parents. It is a charming, electric book. As is her latest, “Leaving Before the Rains Come,” the story of her 19-year marriage.

Across two decades, three children, and eventual financial calamities, her life with husband Charlie Ross frays and eventually unravels. Fuller frets, flails and strays as the relationship founders.

Fuller’s intimacy with language ripples off the page.

“Leaving Before the Rain Comes” is the work of a writer finding real wisdom. Fuller gives herself over, in a more placid and thorough way than she did in her fevered youth, to the idea that “there is no way to order chaos. It’s the fundamental theory at the beginning and end of everything; it’s the ultimate law of nature. There’s no way to win against unpredictability, to suit up completely against accidents.”

Seattle Times

Fiction

Welcome to Braggsville

T. Geronimo Johnson, William Morrow, 384 pages

The basic story line of T. Geronimo Johnson’s novel “Welcome to Braggsville” is straightforward and intriguing. Take four young, liberal-minded students at the University of California at Berkeley. Then send them on a class project that includes a fake lynching to be sprung during a Civil War reenactment in a small Georgia town.

What possibly could go wrong? In Johnson’s telling, a lot – both funny and frightful – as this cross-country mash-up of cultures provides a potent learning experience for the novel’s central figure, D’aron Davenport.

D’aron is a bright, gentle white student who grew up in Braggsville but fled to the more intellectually challenging environs of Berkeley. There he becomes fast friends with Charlie, a black athlete; Louis, a Malaysian with plans to be a stand-up comic; and Candice, a blonde from Iowa whom D’aron would like to know as more than a friend.

Johnson does not follow convention for structure and style. The narrative, for example, opens with a single sentence that runs on for more than a page of hip-hop-infused lingo that introduces D’aron through his youthful years. Scenes and events generally unfold in a more customary form, but the chronology is purposely choppy, and the dialogue at times encourages a second reading.

This is Johnson’s second novel. His first, “Hold it ’til it Hurts,” was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner award for fiction.

Associated Press

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