Book Review: In the Not Quite Dark by Dana Johnson

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This book is a short story collection, so I’ll review each story.

“Rogues” is a story about a young man who is struggling to make ends meet in the city, so he comes out to visit his brother in the desert with the intention of asking him for money. His brother, who moved out of the city to escape the crime, has just discovered that his house was broken into. The neighbors band together to find the culprits, which are likely a gang of kids. This story is about the fear of losing what you have, and how that same fear drives people away to grasp for more.

“Sunshine” is a story about a young woman whose boyfriend wants her to have a threesome with him and a woman at their gym. His incessant criticism and nagging has her in a pace where what he thinks has become more important than her own voice. There are hints of a history sexual abuse in her hesitation to say no, and this story gives commentary on women and their place in society.

“Now, in the Not Quite Dark” is about a mother visiting her young son in his DTLA apartment. It’s about all the reasons he loves Downtown, which are the same reasons his mother hates it. The story gives a deep sense of place but is lacking in plot, opting to just follow the conversation between a mother and son who agree to disagree.

The story “Because That’s Just Easier” it about the trials of raising a child in an urban environment. It follows a young family whose toddler daughter is afraid to leave the building. It ends up addressing the problem of homelessness and how we can coexist with those that have nothing.

“No Blaming the Harvard Boys” is about a party that centers around two young men from Harvard, one of whom is a certified genius. It follows a young woman with an inferiority complex who is getting progressively more intoxicated as the evening goes on and she evaluates her options of who to spend the night with.

“Buildings Talk” is another story that takes place in Downtown LA. The young man in the story faces rent increases as gentrification takes hold. It deals specifically with his relationship to the manager of his building, whom he calls That Fat Bastard Fatty Arbuckle.

“Art is Always and Everywhere the Secret Confession” is a story that evades me. I’m not sure what it is about or if it really is a story after all. Again, we are looking at living downtown and who was cooler than who first. A three page dissection of life as a young person in Los Angeles.

The Liberace Museum” is about a couple who go to Vegas and visit the Liberace Museum. It is about the power play and dynamic in their relationship and how their past reflects on that. It’s a story about race and the way the South still has hints of inequality.

“She Deserves Everything She Gets” is about a young girl going off to college and the adults in her life, namely her aunt, reflecting on their own experiences of college. This story grazes the subject of rape without ever quite making a sound.

“Two Crazy Whores” is a story that follows a woman on a plane whose interaction of a girl and her mother sends her on a examination of her past. Again, a story that rides a thin edge about sexual abuse, never quite saying whether or not it happened.

“The Story of Biddy Mason” is a somewhat historical account of the creation of Los Angeles and it’s diverse and poignant past. It follows Biddy Mason, a slave who becomes a pillar of the town and the connection between church and community. It contrasts her involvement with the financial prowess of powerful founders such as Sam Huntington. Then we end up once again as a young person in DTLA, surrounded by all this history that could easily slip by unnoticed.

 

In The Not Quite Dark reads as a collection of stories that are almost in conversation with each other about what it means to be not so young anymore and living in a city that is diverse enough to reflect any mood or state you may be in. Los Angeles, specifically downtown, is described with such affection and love in all it’s piss-stained glory.  Many of the stories deal with what it means to be a young woman among many threats, perceived or real.

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