Last updated on November 28th, 2016“In the ghetto there is a mansion, and it is my father’s house.” As soon as I read this first sentence of Loving Day by Mat Johnson I sighed and thought, “Oh, good,” a book I’m going to love. I had just finished two other books, a memoir by an associate and a dense literary version of a woman’s chronic existential crisis, and even though they were well written I wasn’t thrilled about them. What I needed now was a book I couldn’t wait to read, and once it was opened in front of me, I didn’t want to put it down. Loving Day didn’t disappoint. The story is about a recently divorced, mediocre cartoon illustrator bi-racial man (his father was Irish and his mother was black) who returns to his childhood hood in Philly. And discovers a huge surprise waiting for him at a comic convention that forces him to come to terms with his own identity and the identity of his people, and all people.
I love the voice of Mat Johnson. It is the kind of voice I, as a writer, envy. How can he mix street language with elegant English? How can the humor pop out at me when I’m deeply involved in the inner turmoil and the multiple existential crises of Warren Duffy, the main character? How can a writer weave together such diverse themes as racial prejudice, parental demands, lost identity, economic suppression, and artistic impotence so successfully? As I read Warren Duffy’s journey, I had the sense I was reading about the life of the author cloaked inside this novel. I have only admiration for Mr. Johnson’s bravery to write such a compelling and universal story.
The ending of the book fulfills all that I needed and desired to complete the journey. For the last sentence of the novel isn’t just about Warren Duffy’s revelation, or Mat Johnson’s command of storytelling, it is about me, you, all of us. For after all, we are “Just people.”
P.S. When I purchased the book at my favorite used bookstore, I didn’t know what Loving Day meant. What I find very interesting is that a movie just came out about the interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving. The Lovings are unseen, but important, characters in the novel. Their story, in a way, moves, pushes Warren Duffy’s story forward. I will go see the movie now. Without reading this book, I would have let the movie pass me by. Ah, one of the great benefits of reading! Reading makes me more connected to the world, and I need this more than ever.