Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Reconstruction is a collection of short stories by the somewhat celebrated author. Featuring a fair variety do her work, this volume presents much worth reading to even an experienced hand. While a contents page is provided, it might surprise the reader that there is no foreword, though there is an afterword which is intriguing.
“A Song to Greet the Sun” is a dark and sad little story, one about a father killing his daughter at the order of the priesthood. She had been seen romantically with an outsider, and this was deemed enough. The style of telling, with varied verses before each chapter, helps Ingram the strange darkness of both situation and verse.
The murder is brutal, with the girl’s own mother being physically prevented from intervening. It is done, further, in a way that violates the traditional rules of harm in that culture. It is made clear that normally shedding blood would be forbidden, however the priests have specifically demanded father do it when killing daughter.
There is an obvious theme about not doing things for material gain when they are not worth it, and about the strange way one’s family can be a trap. The persistence of song is touched upon, and reinforced.
The final story in the collection is the piece for which it is named, “Reconstruction” and a worthwhile piece it is. It is a horror story in which there are supernatural elements yet the most disturbing parts are the War, suffering, and racism that surround the narrator and characters overall. Vivid descriptions by the author abound, with each sense gestured to and contradicting smells serving at one point to paint a crystal clear picture of the time and place.
The story ends on a bleak note, albiet different from that which many do. Our lead is still alive, and finds a horrifying realization in the fact their memories are all that remain of so many people they loved. Comrades in arms, ancestors, loves, all still living aftet a fashion in a single head. Calling this piece remeniscient of Lovecraft Country would make it seem derivitave, yet both drive into the same part of a reader’s mind and take from the same pained history.
The afterword of this particular collection presents an interesting point of view, in which the author questions how much he denied her own Heritage in an effort to get published early on, comparing her later work to decolonization. It is only a short part put in before recommendations and thanks, yet quite fascinating in its own right.
After all of the stories and addendums there is, of course, a nice little section showing the first publications for those stories collected within the book. While not the widest set of publications, the tastes of the reader may be further piqued by their content.
Overall this is a nice collection from Alaya Dawn Johnson, with powerful and often mournful materials contained within. It is easy to recommend to readera whom enjoy the subject matter, and certainly the title story is recommended true fans of historical genre work. Reconstruction should be an easy yes for a tempted reader.
(Small Beer Press, 2021)