cover image Hold It ’Til It Hurts

Hold It ’Til It Hurts

T. Geronimo Johnson. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-1-56689-309-1

This powerful, stylish debut novel from New Orleans native and former Stegner fellow Johnson concerns a 22-year-old black man adopted and raised by a white couple who is trying to make sense and order of his life after three years of serving two Army tours in Afghanistan. Achilles and his younger brother Troy Conroy return to Hagerstown, Md., as their father’s wake is in progress. News of his death had failed to reach them at Bagram AFB, and soon after their return, Anna, their mother, divulges information about their birth parents. Both brothers are transracial adoptees with different biological parents, but “easygoing” Achilles only cares about taking care of the “reckless” Troy, who slips away to New Orleans, presumably on a quest to locate his biological parents. Achilles follows Troy to New Orleans where his trail mysteriously vanishes. In the course of his dogged search for Troy, Achilles sparks a romance with the “classic rich hippy” Ines Delesseppes, from whom he keeps secrets (such as his adoption). Hurricane Katrina forms and begins its march to New Orleans as Achilles, after getting a lead on his brother’s whereabouts from an old Army pal, leaves to track down the errant Troy in Atlanta where disturbing news awaits. The stark backstory fleshing out Achilles and Troy’s arduous combat duty over in “Goddamnistan” smartly plays off the thorough exploration of modern American attitudes on race, war, and family in this richly textured debut. (Sept.)