John Henry Days

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Product Overview

From the author of "The Intuitionist" comes a retelling of the legend of John Henry that sweeps across generations and cultures in a stunning, hilarious, and unsettling portrait of American society.


Publisher Random House Inc
Mfg Part# 9780385498203
SKU 30888799
Format Paperback
ISBN10 0385498209
Release Date 5/1/2002
Author Info
Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead, the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize nominee, has written about an eclectic array of topics, including elevator inspectors (THE INTUITIONIST, 1999), black folk figures (JOHN HENRY DAYS, 2001), flesh-tone bandages (APEX HIDES THE HURT, 2006), and zombies (ZONE ONE, 2001). "I think if you do your job, then people will come to it--whether it's about elevator inspectors, or John Henry, or zombies," he told one interviewer. "[Because] it's not just about elevator inspectors, it's not just about zombies--it's about people, it's about culture." Whitehead has lived in New York his entire life, and his passion for the city is evident in his essay collection, THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (2004), which his publisher deemed "a literary love song." The author was the product of a solidly middle-class upbringing; his father, Arch, was a Dartmouth graduate who owned a successful business-research firm, which he had established in the early 1960s, after being told that few companies were hiring African-American executives. Whitehead set his most autobiographical novel, SAG HARBOR (2009), in a summer resort on the Long Island Sound popular with black professionals. From an early age, he was an avid fan of horror novels and films, and in the early 1980s, with the advent of VCRs, he and his brother routinely watched five movies a week, renting them from a New York City shop called Crazy Eddie's. After graduating from Harvard in 1991--with his love of pop culture firmly intact--he began working at the VILLAGE VOICE, an alternative newspaper for which he reviewed music, books, and TV shows. Whitehead's first novel, THE INTUITIONIST, won critical acclaim, and his subsequent books cemented his reputation as one of the most talented writers of his generation. Nancy Pearl wrote that Whitehead's "stylish prose . . . will bring to mind Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon," and he is frequently referred to as an heir of the author Ralph Ellison. "We want to be careful about overdoing all the comparisons to Ellison, though," one Yale professor who includes Whitehead's works on his syllabus has cautioned. "[He] is not a derivative writer."
"...Whitehead's principal characters are slack. They're as unable to convince a reader that their adventures amount to anything as they are unconvinced by themselves. The story hiding inside this one is Whitehead's portrait of a real John Henry and of the odyssey of the ballad that made him immortal. This made of bits and pieces, fictional vignettes rooted in lifetimes of research You never know when to expect these breaks....When they do arrive, it's as if you've been pitched headlong into another book altogether."
"[Whitehead's] hip wit sits on the narrative less as a delicious icing than as a nervous burden; self-consciousness threatens to block every simple feeling....[A]n ambitious, finely chiselled work frustratingly vague in its resolution."
"[The novel] is funny and wise and sumptuously written, but it's only rarely a page turner. There is very little story to speak of beyond the pageant, the scripted performance, of the eponymous event. As for suspense, we learn on Page 24 that several unspecified characters will be shot and possibly killed, and there's some low-level romantic voltage between J. and [a] memorabilia collector's daughter, but the novel would need to be a lot shorter to operate on narrative batteries this small."
"JOHN HENRY DAYS is daring, nervy, knowing, and smart. Like UNDERWORLD, it is a bristle of bricolage; but unlike that book, it gives off, despite its bulk, a curious fear of longevity, of entanglement. Its mode is generally filmic--the rapidity of cutting seems more important than the depth of scenes."
"Colson Whitehead's JOHN HENRY DAYS . . . is, by every standard, a big book. For one, there's Whitehead's hulking talent. . . . [F]or another, there's the novel's outsize subject matter, which is more or less America, the epic idea of which Whitehead chases with the dogged ambition of a Lawrence or DeLillo."
"[A] hilarious, heart-tugging take on the evolution of the American folk hero John Henry--and on the theme of inevitability, or the power of fate."
From the Publisher
Annotation The railroad man and folk ballad hero is brought to life in Colson Whitehead's novel, in which a journalist ("J.") from the 1990s is covering the "John Henry Days" festival in West Virginia. The experiences of the two men inform each other, one in the mid-19th century of the Industrial Revolution, one in the late 20th century of the Digital Revolution. A New York Times "Editor's Choice" for 2001.
Editors Note On assignment for a travel Web site, J. Sutter, a young African-American freelance journalist, heads for West Virginia to cover the "John Henry Days" festival in honor of the new U.S. postage stamp honoring John Henry and discovers the real-life story of John Henry and its relevance to his own life and times. By the author of The Intuitionist.
Editors Note 2 Colson Whitehead’s eagerly awaited and triumphantly acclaimed new novel is on one level a multifaceted retelling of the story of John Henry, the black steel-driver who died outracing a machine designed to replace him. On another level it’s the story of a disaffected, middle-aged black journalist on a mission to set a record for junketeering who attends the annual John Henry Days festival. It is also a high-velocity thrill ride through the tunnel where American legend gives way to American pop culture, replete with p. r. flacks, stamp collectors, blues men , and turn-of-the-century song pluggers. John Henry Days is an acrobatic, intellectually dazzling, and laugh-out-loud funny book that will be read and talked about for years to come.
Editors Note 3 On assignment for a travel Web site, J. Sutter, a young African-American freelance journalist, heads for West Virginia to cover the "John Henry Days" festival in honor of the new U.S. postage stamp honoring John Henry and discovers the real-life story of John Henry and its relevance to his own life and times. By the author of The Intuitionist. Reader's Guide available. Reprint. 50,000 first printing.
Product Attributes
eBooks Kobo
Book Format Paperback
Number of Pages 0400
Publisher Anchor Books

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