How much does race figure into UH creative writing professor Mat Johnson’s new novel Loving Day? Well, let’s do the numbers.
In an advance copy provided to Houstonia by the book’s publisher, Random House, 184 pages mention the subject explicitly (“Uncle Tom,” “mulattoes,” “mixies”), 25 more use terms like “flesh” and “skin,” and another 26 make references to objects that are black, white or grey (“white trailer,” “black Beetle”).
Total, by our count: 235 of the book’s 288 pages. That’s an impressive achievement by any measure, almost as impressive as Johnson’s skill at weaving America’s deepest problem into a yarn that is by turns provocative, heartrending and spit-take funny.
If you’re wondering, the title of Johnson’s novel, whose official release date is May 26, refers to an actual holiday—June 12—celebrating the landmark Supreme Court decision declaring laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional. And considering the unavoidable tensions spawned by his theme, there’s something jubilant, if not celebratory, about Johnson’s book too.
After the death of his father, Loving’s biracial narrator-protagonist Warren abandons failures in Wales (marriage, business) and returns to Philadelphia, where he grew up and where his father has bequeathed him a great, and greatly dilapidated, old mansion. There, he finds himself haunted by ghosts both literal and figurative, the most memorable of whom is Tal, a daughter he never knew. The moments when each struggle to shoehorn newly discovered parts of themselves into old identities are much the most enjoyable and poignant in the book.