A book of short stories and a novella, inspired by Black lives in America and featuring the eponymous work "My Monticello" that tells of a diverse group of Charlottesville neighbors fleeing violent white supremacist.
A startling and powerful debut collection ... Our proximity is part of the astonishment of this story, which thrusts upon us an intimacy with Monticello’s many physical spaces ... Up close, we cannot ignore our present-day complicity with history even as the novella moves propulsively toward tomorrow’s inevitability. Simply put, a masterly feat ... The novella reminds us of what fiction does best: reflect our reality back at us just when we need it most. My Monticello aches with both resonance and timeliness, engaging in rich conversation with recent, real-life events never far from our minds ... The preceding stories in the collection, prescient and wide-ranging, depict finely drawn Black characters awash in microaggressions even as they strive to be and have more ... [Johnson's] deep connection to the state — its land, its landmarks, its history, its cruelty and its beauty — thrums throughout. It’s exhilarating to imagine the stories still to come from this gifted bard of a site whose remains she knows so well.
Jocelyn Nicole Johnson uses history to spectacular effect in her debut fiction collection ... What makes My Monticello particularly resonant is that it does not stray far from life as we know it today. In the near future conjured by Johnson, there are the heat waves and wildfires that bring climate change into view. There is fallout from a fraught election. There is the vile replacement theory rhetoric of the right wing. But the lives of Johnson’s richly drawn characters—their personal stories—are always in focus. And, because of it, the storytelling is propulsive, as we follow these refugees along a harrowing journey, with danger ever at their heels. My Monticello is, quite simply, an extraordinary debut from a gifted writer with an unflinching view of history and what may come of it.
The narrative is swift and steadfast, and I didn’t have much time to dwell on such ponderings because the writing was so moving and controlled. My Monticello is not a novel; it's made up of five short stories and one long story—a novella nearly ... full of wisdom and the woes of our neighbors and our fellow humans. But there is no need for gilding here; everything is raw and beautiful—in its terrifying truth. Instead, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson takes her pen (Seamus Heaney’s fabled shovel) and digs into the dirt, the history of Virginia. Like a museum, a book can hold treasures, but these insights and artifacts are not behind glass; they are before you, living and occurring in the present day. Johnson furthers the Southern tradition, widening its scope and giving us something new to examine and learn from.