My Monticello: Fiction

by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

Hardcover, 2021




Henry Holt and Co. (2021), 224 pages


Fiction. African American Fiction. Literature. Short Stories. HTML: In a daring and fierce debut work of fiction�??the likes of which comes along once in a generation�??Virginia's landscapes, emblems, and Thomas Jefferson's historic plantation set the stage for a cast of unforgettable characters fighting for their right to exist in America. A young woman descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings driven from her neighborhood by a white militia. A university professor studying racism by conducting a secret social experiment on his own son. A single mother desperate to buy her first home even as the world hurtles toward catastrophe. Each fighting to survive in America. Tough-minded, vulnerable, and brave, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's precisely imagined debut explores burdened inheritances and extraordinary pursuits of belonging. Set in the near future, the eponymous novella, "My Monticello," tells of a diverse group of Charlottesville neighbors fleeing violent white supremacists. Led by Da'Naisha, a young Black descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, they seek refuge in Jefferson's historic plantation home in a desperate attempt to outlive the long-foretold racial and environmental unravelling within the nation. In "Control Negro," hailed by Roxane Gay as "one hell of story," a university professor devotes himself to the study of racism and the development of ACMs (average American Caucasian males) by clinically observing his own son from birth in order to "painstakingly mark the route of this Black child too, one whom I could prove was so strikingly decent and true that America could not find fault in him unless we as a nation had projected it there." Johnson's characters all seek out home as a place and an internal state, whether in the form of a Nigerian widower who immigrates to a meager existence in the city of Alexandria, finding himself adrift; a young mixed-race woman who adopts a new tongue and name to escape the landscapes of rural Virginia and her family; or a single mother who seeks salvation through "Buying a House Ahead of the Apocalypse." United by these characters' relentless struggles against reality and fate, My Monticello is a formidable collection that bears witness to this country's legacies and announces the arrival of a wildly original new voice in American fiction. "A group of talented narrators deliver these short stories set in Virginia, which focus on the lives of African Americans." �??AudioFile Earphone Award Winner A Macmillan Audio production from Henry Holt and Company… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member hemlokgang
This is a collection of short stories and a novella. The themes? Being Black, historically, in the present & in the future. Using powerful prose and thought-provoking plots, the author keeps the reader laser focused on the issue of race, in memorable fashion. Very, very impressive!
LibraryThing member brangwinn
The audio version had me from the first story narrated by LaVar Burton. The title novella is by far the most compelling in the collection. It is unsettling as it mirrors what is happening right now. Da’Naisha and her family flee when white supremacists start setting fires to the neighborhood.
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They find refuge at Monticello, Jefferson’s home. Shi is a descendant of Sally Hemmings and Jefferson. Having different narrators for each of the novellas in the audio version helps to delineate the stories and make each one powerful on its own.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
The novella of the collection was a fascinating portrait of an all too real future where the grid goes down, the police disband, and a white militia group decides to drive out the poor black residents in low income housing. "The men came at dusk blaring an operatic O say can you see. White heads
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rose up from dusty Jeeps and dark hair thrashed in a harsh new wind like tattered flags. OURS! the men shouted. Their rifles gleamed as if they’d only just been bought: a megastore militia." The story takes place near Charlottesville and the group manages to escape in an abandoned bus and drive to Monticello where as it turn out the author of the tale we are reading not only worked there but is actually related to Sally Hemings. The first person narrator, Da'Naisha Love, details the 19 days spent held up in the famous historical house as they prepare for the inevitable battle that will ensue.
Later, after we’d gotten together in earnest, after the air had grown cold enough to draw frost from our words, Knox and I took a giddy selfie on the Lawn, our bodies angled close. I felt short, of course, nestled there in the pit of his arm. Knox smelled like castile soap and wood smoke, since it was finally cold enough that he’d begun to use the fireplace in his dorm. I remember I could feel him peering down at the crown of my head with such adoration, my hair pulled taut to a puff at my neck, a bind that he would undo that same night with trembling, reverent fingers. Posing there, I knew there was nothing so peculiar between us, between any one person and the next. But when we looked at the result, we had to pretend it wasn’t a jab, the way the flash could hardly contain us—it blew out Knox’s fine features and burned mine to pitch.

KJ skulked near the Jaunt, dragging his suitcase, a thin scar on his forehead arching like a second brow, giving his young face a look of near-constant wonder.

In the summers of my childhood, seemed like you could always hear the ice-cream truck down the road, its eerie carnival jingle, and the creepy pale driver who would trade hot quarters for something melty and sweet.

To me guns meant indiscriminate power, the risk of fatally misjudging someone else’s worth.

She looked uninjured, but her eyes were too dark, as if the brown centers had eaten the whites.

Each breath left her chest curved like a question, one that might not be answered.

Thank you to my storyteller mother, my judicious father, my bighearted big brother, my kind sis-in-law, and my truth-teller son. (I want to leave you a better world, but I’m afraid I may only leave you stories of longing for it.)

I was impressed with the writing and the author , an art teacher in the public schools, who, at 50 published her first collection. Her other stories included:

Control negro (spoiler warnings)
First person account written by a black professor who has fathered a child in order to play out his theory about average white Caucasians vs black men. He tries to figure out if raising a child a certain way, exposing him to all the right moves would prevent the racism encountered by others. He even calls the cops on his own son as an experiment, one that ultimately proves him wrong.
Virginia is not your home
Melancholy tale of a girl who tries to escape her small town in Virginia, changes her name, becomes accepted in first class life because she attends a boarding school,paid for by her mother's cleaning of the dean's house. She travels to Europe, marries a photographer of some renown. Eventually they have two children and start to lose their wealth, move back to Virginia. Her mother winds up in a home, her kids resent her, her husband leaves, but worse, she is recognized as Virginia again and hates it.
"Don’t accept the moldy hymnals, the marquee salvations—the wayward way that Momma courts heaven like a scornful lover."
Something sweet or our tongues.
Told in third person, the we describes a group of ten year old boys on a school day. They are unruly for the teachers, follow the lead of the biggest bully, and beat up a fellow student. The pleasure it brings them is like the candy the nurse supplies to the diabetic girl in the class
A mom looking for the right place to move to as the end of things begins. She gives advice on what to look for and what to avoid and what mistakes she has suffered from, hoping her daughter will reunite with her.
Interesting style , very bleak.
"Be ready for the emergency inside the emergency, for when the hordes bang against your door and you find you’ve grown so lonesome too, so ravenous, really, that you rush to let them in."
King of Xandria
Mr. Attah lives in Alexandria where he has brought his children after leaving Lagos, after his wife was killed by young terrorist. He had a job in hospitality but was let go for complaining. Now he pretends to go to work so that his children don't know. His daughter Justina, works for a paper company; his son, his promise, is in 10th grade and struggling. The school keeps trying to tell Mr. Attah that Alex needs special ed services but he gets emotional and confrontational until they finally bring his son in on the IEP meeting and where Alex gets his dad to okay the help he knows he needs.
Sad poignant story without much hope for the future.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
This collection of stunning, shocking portrayals of mini and maxi aggressions against Black people is remarkable in its soaring imaginings. The first story, The Control Negro, sets the stage by having a Black professor as the distant observer of the treatment of his own son, until he becomes an
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active participant in the child's oppression, was included in America's Best Short Stories of 2018. The masterpiece is the title story, a shocking recounting of a dystopian takeover of Charlottesville, VA by violent white supremacists, as part of the collapse of American society and its electrical grid, where each individual community must resist or surrender to the conquerors. A group of neighbors flee to Jefferson's home museum, led by Da'Naisha Hemmings Love, a college student and a direct descendent of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson. They become a utopian family and a collective, but the threat of an attack remains constant amid the irony of living in Monticello, in the Big House, cultivating its historic gardens and outfitting themselves in t shirts from the gift shop. The menace is overwhelming, the reader can see what's coming and yearns to protect the small band of gallant survivors.

Quote: "I felt that knotted tie to Monticello, my bond by blood and water - as master and slave. My ancestors had conceived of this house and bloodied their hands to build and maintain it."
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
The title story was my favorite of this short story collection. This is an author to watch.
LibraryThing member Hccpsk
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson is actually four short stories followed by the longer eponymous story. All of the stories are strong examinations of race, family, and belonging, and Johnson’s writing brings a cool and interesting angle. The title story unfolds over a few weeks in a
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dystopian near-future, where a group of neighbors escapes a white mob in the city to hide out in Jefferson’s home. It’s an odd but emotional story that echoes the themes of the earlier ones — race, family, belonging and survival at all costs. This short story collection may not be for everyone, but readers who enjoy short stories with a social justice theme will find this an interesting collection.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
[My Monticello] is a collection of 4 short stories and a novella by debut author, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson. The stories are all set in Virginia, my adopted home state, so I was curious to read them. They also deal with race and racism. The most memorable story to me was the first one "Control Negro"
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about a Black professor who fathers a son and then sets up his life at a distance to see if providing the same physical and emotional set up that an "Average Caucasian Male" receives will result in similar life outcomes.

My Monticello is the title of the novella included in this collection. It is set in Charlottesville,VA in what I assume to be the near future. Chaos has ensued and white men are "taking back" the country. A mixed group ends up fleeing together to Jefferson's home, Monticello. The main character is a young woman who is related to Jefferson through her mother's line, going back to Sally Hemmings. I thought it was very effective to set the place of refuge for this group at Monticello, which, as the large slave plantation of one of America's founding fathers, could be viewed as one of the seeds of the problem in the first place.

This is an impressive debut collection that is culturally relevant and a pleasure to read. I recommend.

Original publication date: 2021
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 215 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/where I acquired the book: purchased kindle book
Why I read this: review by Beth/BLBera
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
Not sure how I found this book but I am glad that I did. This is a debut collection by Johnson who is a Virginia public school art teach and is 50. The book consists of 5 short stories and the book title novella. The short stories take place in present day Virginia and deal with various aspects of
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the black experience. They are well written and very creative. Johnson has a way of making you feel the characters anguish and joy. What sets this collection off and into the outstanding category in the novella "My Monticello". Starting with the Charlottesville 2017 protests that turned violent, it presents a world in which climate change and civil unrest are creating an "unraveling" of society with utility grids and cell phone no longer being supported. In this story the city is being attacked by white militias that are seeking to drive out the black/brown people from city and take it back for themselves. The lead character Da'Naisha Love is a 19 year old student at UVA and a direct descendent of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson. She and 18 others flee the city when they are attacked and end up at Jefferson's plantation at Monticello. They spend the next 19 days taking it over and working together to make a community and deal with the violence around them. There are so many stories going on and they are beautifully done. You feel the scariness of their situation and you see the ties to the past and the uncertain future. Given our current state of polarization and climate change issues, the picture Johnson draws could become a reality. The threads that hold society together may not be as strong as we would like to believe. At 210 pages this is a book that should be read. I look forward to future books by Johnson.
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LibraryThing member DonnasBookAddiction
I won an ARC from Goodreads giveaway(#HenryHolt&Company), and a kindle copy via #NetGalley for a fair and honest review. Publication date is October 5, 2021.

My Monticello is a collection of stories, a stunning debut is comprised of six stories of astonishing range, and written in prose.

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start of this novel Control Negro, was a shocker, telling, and unexpected ending. “Control Negro,” follows Cornelius, a Black history professor whose peers mistake him for a janitor and whom white students mock with racist jokes, prompting him to plot with a married Black graduate student to have a son together and give him opportunities equal to those of “Average Caucasian Males.” In the experiment, the “Control Negro” doesn’t learn the identity of his father, and Cornelius observes from a distance, hopeful his son will turn out better.

Virginia is Not Your Home, written in prose form, was a very interesting read. A sad, but hopeful ending.

Something Sweet on Our Tongues, reckons with institutionalized racism in schools. Funny, child’s play, hunger, diabetic, bullying, poverty. WOW!

Buying a House Ahead of the Apocalypse, was a wonder to me. I was lost on the premise of its storytelling.

The King of Xandria, features Mr. Attah. A Nigerian transformed to the United States with his two children, addressing the collateral damage wrought by the trauma endured by immigrants prior to leaving their homelands. It’s a sad story that probably rings true for immigrants who are struggling for a better life.

My Monticello is the main story of the six. A collective of Black and Brown residents decamp to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, seeking refuge where the Unite the Right rally has cast a long shadow and white supremacists pillage the downtown area.

It took me awhile to get into the cadence of Johnson’s writing style. The stories are chilling, thought-provoking and artistically crafted, showing Johnson's amazing writing ability. The cultural makeup of the characters was appreciated. The suspense of how the main story would end, was the highlight. This is an outstanding collection to literary fiction. Detailed with individual courage and systemic racism, and peppered with resistance, hope and love.
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LibraryThing member lrobe190
Great author, powerful content, unrelentingly depressing. Not for every reader


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