cover image In the Not Quite Dark

In the Not Quite Dark

Dana Johnson. Counterpoint (PGW dist.), $15.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-61902-732-9

Johnson’s (Elsewhere, California) superb short story collection features well-drawn characters, vivid descriptions of Los Angeles, and nuanced reflections on money, race, and family. The stories stand alone, but they share preoccupations, and sometimes settings. In the title story, Dean Wilkerson tries to make his mother see the beauty of his historic downtown apartment building, the Pacific Electric Lofts. She wishes he lived somewhere more private and farther from Skid Row. In “Because That’s Just Easier,” a mother’s doubts about moving downtown resurface when her six-year-old daughter is upset by encounters with homeless people and, heartbreakingly, by her inability to help them. In “Buildings Talk,” a tenant at the Pacific Electric facing rent hikes and gentrification asks, “Where are people supposed to go? Where do they go? Does it really come down, always, to the cold, cold, hard, hard, cash? I know. Where have I been?” Johnson never loses sight of what it can mean to be from somewhere, especially for African-Americans. In the excellent “The Liberace Museum,” Charlotte and the man she loves take a detour on their way to Los Angeles so she can meet his parents in Jackson, Miss. Many characters study their surroundings for clues about the past, and history comes to the forefront in Johnson’s tour de force closer, “The Story of Biddy Mason.” This is essential reading for Angelenos, Californians, and anyone interested in masterly, morally engaged storytelling. (Aug.)