September, 2018: John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead

(Book #101) There are so many impressive things about our book club, but when I realized Susan made prime rib I was still overwhelmed. In the novel one of the journalists who loads up on free food, was eating seconds, thirds, fourths of prime rib when he choked. When Susan sent out her invitation and request for rsvps, I replied “No prime rib for me, thanks.” Susan sent a return email, “Teresa, we would never let you choke!” Even then I couldn’t imagine she would actually serve it, but she did. The evening email subject line was Tragedy Averted at John Henry Days Gala:

Only a small group of five junketeers showed up at the John Henry Days Gala to cover the 101st book read by a Chicago based book club.  FB Eye, Props and T. showed up in the first wave and were joined later by Ed. and Mickie. Arlene was down with a sinus headache so her sister Susan took control of the evening and had very capably set up the venue to allow for dinner to take place either indoors or out. The usual square cheese and crackers were replaced by an incredible goat cheese covered in honey, fig and pistachios.  T. almost consumed the plate of goat cheese before Mickie showed up. Another platter offered brie with apples and grapes; three bowls were filled with crackers, toasts and almonds.                                            “How are they going to pay for all this?”                                                    “Emptying the book club coffers.”
“No new bookmarks for the varsity book club.”                                                “Not the new bookmarks!”                                                                                         “Any of you writing this up?” Props asked.                                                             “I’m writing it up for a new website, Book Club 101” T. informed her.        The junketeers were more impressed when they saw the dinner menu. “This may be the big city, but this doesn’t look organic, vegan, or sustainable.” Ed. said.                                                                                            “Amen to that!” T. said and lit out for the food. The red light was calling her. Set above the cutting plate like a divine illumination, the red heating lamps warmed the sweet meat. [Poetic license taken here — there wasn’t actually a red light.] The salad declined her invitation, but T. savored the potatoes dauphinoise and the wonderful taste of perfectly cooked and innocent green beans. And the prime rib, the prime rib aloft in its own juice and glorified by creamy horseradish! 
Mickie and T. both took seconds and then they heard Susan’s husband starting to set up to sing “The Ballad of John Henry.”  [This part didn’t actually happen but I hoped it would, so I’m including it.] T. attacked the prime rib. She cut off a piece, a big piece, dipped it in the horseradish and put it in her mouth.
Susan’s husband sings: John Henry told his captain, Captain go to town And bring me back two twenty pound hammers, And I’ll sure beat your steam drill down. Lord, Lord, And I’ll sure beat your steam drill down.”
T. cut another piece of meat, dipped it in horseradish, put it in her mouth and everything was fine. It was all delicious, no one choked on anything.  [It’s lucky Colson Whitehead went another way with this because this is just boring.] Then Susan served the dessert of warmed spiced peaches (from her niece’s farm) topped with vanilla ice cream. After our meal we sat in Susan’s lovely back yard and drank a little more wine. 

No one wanted to talk about the book as much as I did because I LOVED this one. Chris (Ed.) said she felt she was reading a 30 year old who was talented, but mostly being 30 –but I was duped. I thought it was funny and beautifully written. I did admit to having written a Dramatis Personae in the front of my book so that I could refer to the names of the characters as I started a new “chapter.”  Chris thought the Altamont free concert story was too long and wondered what its contribution was to the story — and I said that both the young black man (whose name was Meredith Hunter, by the way) who was killed at Altamont and Alphonse, the stamp collector at the unveiling of the John Henry stamp both said:  “I wasn’t going to shoot you.” Melissa (Props) thought he needed a better editor but the only story that I wanted to push along was the one about Godfrey Frank, Fire Drill and the Orderly Fashions. Melissa thought he lived and returned on the earlier flight to New York. I voted for the more depressing option. Geri (Mickie) and Susan (Arlene’s very capable sister) did not say a great deal or maybe I didn’t hear them because I was talking or thinking too hard.Sharon (FB Eye) mostly skimmed the book because her reading was off while she was working at Whole Foods but she’s been forced to give up her employment to take care of her fictional sister — so maybe she will have more to say about The Accidental Tourist when she hosts (again) on MONDAY, October 15.
Respectfully Submitted, T. (and you know what that stands for)

My review on Goodreads: “I’m just stunned that anyone could be so critical of this book as to give it only one star! OK, OK, I know there is no arguing over matters of taste, but, Colson Whitehead is a genius. It’s strange that I didn’t come to this conclusion when I read Underground Railroad as it seems the public at large gives him more credit for Underground Railroad than for John Henry Days. The multiple stories all blending into one is just incredibly well done — I want to say genius again. There was only one “chapter” that I had to push through, the last of Part Four at which time I didn’t want to hear about Godfrey Frank; I wanted to know how it was all going to end. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The stage directions in the chapter written like a play are worth the price of the book!”