Unflinching and honest, The Reckonings seamlessly melds the personal and political into a collection that is both timely and timeless, addressing issues ranging from recovering from unimaginable trauma, to nuclear fallout, to white privilege ... You can start to feel, while reading this collection, that life is one big cover-up, from assaults to oil spills to nuclear waste. Johnson does what a great essayist should do: She shakes you up, shakes you down, makes you figure out your level of complicity, even if that complicity is merely personal or collective silence. Like Michel de Montaigne, the French philosopher who was one of the first great personal essayists, Johnson is unafraid to engage in cultural relativism ... Johnson is a gifted writer, lyrically descriptive ... Lucid and compelling, Johnson's essays are not only bold and memorable, but insistent reminders that all good essays are, in fact, reckonings: attempts to work out problems, whether domestic, cosmic or both, on the page.
...constant questioning, rigorous analysis, and lucid exposition—qualities Johnson’s writing displays in spades ... Johnson is helpfully and fluidly expository as she explores the versions of justice many Americans rely on ... Johnson spares no one (not even Obama) in her insistence that we question our thinking then and now about what constitutes justice as a nation ... her book is jam-packed with compassion. She does not appear to have any agenda beyond seeking to understand, to describe, and to grapple with the ways human beings behave—in other words, to empathize. In this moment of brazen racism, nationalism, xenophobia, and sexual violence, her willingness to sit with the nuanced difficulty of so many moral quandaries began to feel, to this reader, like a form of national service.
In the first essay, Johnson describes what she wants ... 'I like the idea that justice is anything that makes way for joy, that makes the condition of joy a possibility again.' This sounds utopian, and it might be, but The Reckonings is not a book about changing the world. It's philosophy in disguise, equal parts memoir, criticism, and ethics. It has bits of Eula Biss, Leslie Jamison, and Simone Weil, but its patron saint is Grace Paley, whose essays are much too infrequently read. Like Johnson, Paley was committed to bearing witness and, like Johnson, she believed, stubbornly and eternally, in joy ... The 12 essays in The Reckonings are 12 beginnings. Each one deserves great consideration, while you read it and long after. Each one leaves the work up to you.