Drop

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Overview

A passionate and original new voice of the African-American literary tradition.

Chris Jones has a gift for creating desire-a result of his own passionate desire to be anywhere but where he is, to be anyone but himself. Sick of the constraints of his black working-class town, he uses his knack for creating effective ad campaigns to land a dream job in London. But life soon takes a turn for the worse, and unexpectedly Chris finds himself back where he started, forced to return to ...

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Overview

A passionate and original new voice of the African-American literary tradition.

Chris Jones has a gift for creating desire-a result of his own passionate desire to be anywhere but where he is, to be anyone but himself. Sick of the constraints of his black working-class town, he uses his knack for creating effective ad campaigns to land a dream job in London. But life soon takes a turn for the worse, and unexpectedly Chris finds himself back where he started, forced to return to Philadelphia where his only job prospect is answering phones at the electrical company and helping the poor pay their heating and lighting bills. Surrounded by his brethren, the down and out, the indigent, the hopeless, Chris hits bottom. Only a stroke of inspiration and faith can get him back on his feet.

The funny and moving tale of a young black man who, in the process of trying to break free from the city he despises, is forced to come to terms with himself.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Chris, the protagonist of this snappy and engaging first novel, has a refreshingly original voice. A disillusioned, irresponsible African-American from the wrong side of Philadelphia, he'd rather be anywhere than the City of Brotherly Love. Upon college graduation, he enters an advertising contest promising the winner a job at a top New York agency but sadly comes up short. His hopes for escape momentarily dashed, he soon receives an offer from a small London advertiser looking for a junior creative associate, and Chris' journey of discovery begins.

With a plane ticket to London and little else, Chris heads overseas, eager to leave his homeland behind. London was "everything I'd ever hungered for…Success was defined by how far I'd run from the place I'd been born to." But what he finds across the Great Pond isn't all it's cracked up to be. Chris becomes a co-dependent in a murky relationship with his self-destructive boss, and meets up with a beautiful and feisty Nigerian lady who takes to his bed as well as she does to bossing Chris around.

In less than a year, his job in the U.K. quite literally goes up in smoke, and Chris is forced to come to terms with his own personal demons. Arriving in Philly newly humbled, he begins to take stock of what's really around him, and what's deep inside of himself-possibility.

From the Publisher
"Johnson's talent is obvious from the get-go . . . [Drop is] comical, serious, and eloquent—all at the same time."—The Washington Post Book World

"Drop by Mat Johnson signals the arrival of a talented new fiction writer who is adroit at both satire and creating sensitive, memorable characters."—Essence

"Read it for an example of writing at its best."—Rocky Mountain News

"Sophisticated. Brilliant. Honest. Lush with prose that resonates with riffs, sounds of jazz that jump off the page . . . What an opening act for this young writer!"—Sonja Sanchez, author of Shake Loose My Skin

"Drop is a story of restlessness, adventure and a profound search for identity, in short all that the American novel hopes to be at its best. The distances Mat Johnson travels are more than geographical, they are leaps toward literature's most sacred forefathers. Displaying biting humor and a singular talent for beauty, Mat Johnson is a bright new star."—Victor D. LaValle, author of Slapboxing with Jesus

Black Issues Book Review
Drop is a hip, contemporary morality tale set on two continents. The novel is at times predictable, but the language is so alive, crispy-fresh and musical that you will find yourself reading aloud. “Bring-Bring me somewhere lovely where people are so alive you can hear their pulses bump-bumping as they pass you on the street,” whines Chris Jones. He is a victim of the Philly ghetto who would sell his soul to escape his fate. He does manage an escape by “pimping perfection” to the public as a top young creative wizard, putting a London advertising agency on the map.
Jabari Asim
Mat Johnson's talent is obvious from the get-go. I especially like the way he injects snappy jazz into his sentences, successfully deconstructing Big Ideas while resisting the urge to show just how smart he is....Drop manages to be comical, serious and eloquent--all at the same time.
Washington Post
From The Critics
Chris Jones, the self-loathing hero of Johnson's quixotic but strangely appealing new novel, is a rich and complex African-American whose various adventures and psychoses flutter across the pages with such emotional intensity that the reader ultimately forgives his pathetic attraction to glamorous but destructive personalities. Born in Philadelphia, a city he loathes, Jones moves to England and wins a job at a quirky advertising agency in Brixton. The young, creative wannabe finds himself in love with swinging, open London—that is until his job and love life both blow up in his face. Stylistically uneven, Johnson's prose expends energy on tangential themes and events and leaves holes in narrative logic—especially at its less-than-credible climax. But it's a fresh, original and stylish coming-of-age work that avoids most of the cliches of the genre.
—Chris Jones
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An African-American ad designer follows his luck from the hood to the U.K.--and back--in this uneven but quite worthwhile first novel. At 31, having finally earned his B.A., narrator Chris Jones yearns to escape West Philadelphia, his rundown hometown. When Chris wins third place in a marketing contest, his entry catches the eye of David Crombie, a brilliant designer with Jamaican roots. David invites Chris to move to Britain and work for his tiny ad agency in Brixton (a largely black part of South London). Once there, Chris designs some ads and finds a passionate Nigerian girlfriend. His main job, however, is helping David's wife pick up the pieces after David's benders. Then there's a tragic twist of fate, and Chris must return to West Philly. Bitter and dejected, he takes a temp job at the electric company, phoning poor people to help them pay their bills. He must reconcile himself with his co-workers and clients, with his homegirl Alex and with the milieu in which he grew up. Johnson's portrait of West Philly is as nuanced, elegant and witty as his portrait of Brixton is lifeless and flat, and the urban American supporting characters seem alive and genuine in a way none of the English figures begins to be. Chris's inner journey toward peace with his hood and with himself remains bittersweet without being sentimental; it's in Chris's own psyche, and in his West Philly, that Johnson shows his gifts. If the author's next novel resembles the last half of this one, he will have become a writer to celebrate. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Johnson's very humorous debut novel is a classic tale of a young man's rise, fall, and redemption. At age 31, Chris Jones has just completed an undergraduate degree in marketing and lands his dream career in advertising, which propels him from the urban blight of Philadelphia to the bright promise of London. Chris enjoys the benefits of a Santa Claus-like boss, an exotic girlfriend, and a great apartment until tragedy ends his European adventure. His return to his worst memories of Philadelphia initiates a struggle with self-hatred and doubt, but he is redeemed by accepting and finally embracing his identity with the city that gave him life. Johnson's poetic reflections recall the work of James Baldwin, while the cynical realism experienced by the main character during his downward spiral reflects that of Ralph Ellison. Wonderfully written, although the poetic language occasionally interferes with the narrative; this is recommended for all public libraries.--Lee McQueen, SUNY at Buffalo Lib. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Johnson's debut novel reworks a venerable theme: the young American who travels abroad to forge a new identity but ends by discovering that he is far more American than he'd realized.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582341507
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 218
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Mat Johnson received his MFA from Columbia University. He returned to his native Philadelphia, with his wife and daughter, after living in Harlem for several years. Drop is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


A Hungry Man


Me: poor and broke, alone, thirty-one-years-old and only just finishing as an undergrad at a third-rate Pennsylvania state college, no work experience except comforting my mom before she passed. A man with no connections, and even if I did have contacts they'd be back in Philly, and I'd be stuck going up and down Lincoln Drive to 176 for the remainder of my life, East River Drive or West, cursed to pass the same buildings (windows, façades, steps), the same people (skin, breath, voices), the same damn trees (spruce, popular, pine) and streets to match (Spruce, Poplar, fucking Pine) over and again and more, stuck in a city that was a tidal pool, never swimming down the Schuylkill past that net by the Art Museum or floating serenely along the Delaware into oceans beyond. And this meant pain and anger and fear because me was also: ambition and the desperation dreams create.

    So there, within despair, six months from graduation and my impending fall back into the Delaware Valley, I was walking under the dusty fluorescent lights of the marketing department of the university that had promised, but was not providing, my career in advertising. I listened to the slow methodical thump of my soles on the gray linoleum, and that sound as it died against the cinder block walls. I was going to see my advisor, to plead with the small balding man who chewed the backs of ten-cent pens with such ferocity that while you tried to pump him for information on internships, job opportunities, or recommendations, your voice was given a background of spittle,slurp, and crunch. So I was walking down a public school hall knowing: this is not a place that provides futures. I was walking towards nothing really at all. It was there where I happened to glance at the cheerily colored Job Board, giving myself a moment's reprieve from frustration by looking at the sea of glossy ads for military enrollment, ghetto schoolteaching, up to $400 a week envelope stuffing, federally auctioned used cars (starting at just $1) and bulk-rate spring break vacations. I was just about to pull away a brochure for the chance to win a new motorcycle when, at the bottom of the scarred corkboard, I saw it. Below the multitude of glossy false hopes, a strikingly plain white sheet of paper was flapping around in the wind provided by the correctional facility fan blowing down the hall, dancing for me at the bottom of an otherwise still wall. A white sprite of light into my ever darkening abyss.

    I got on my knees to see it, pulling it straight from its folded, envelope-fitting form to see what secret it was trying to conceal. There was a picture on it, black and white, blurred. It could have been me: the back of an upturned head, of a shirt collar showing as a white band above a gray suit and beyond, in the gaze of its unseen face, towers of skyscraper glass. It looked as if he could reach out to them, palm their tops like pre-dunked balls. Over his shoulder, hanging like an urban palm tree, was a street sign. The way it was turned, one of the streets was indiscernible, but the other shined back at me in big letters that said it all: Madison Ave. Can you make it here? read the caption. Create a new and invigorating advertising campaign for an existing product, and you could find yourself working at one of the nation's top advertising firms.

    The contest, where pauper and prince were on equal footing. The only way that the pauper got to be king. And I knew, as I tipped the notice from the wall, staple included, that I could be Arthur in this story. So clearly sent to me, this challenge, my trumpeted escape. I wasn't even discouraged when I saw that the postmark due date was the following day, because I understood that miracles worked that way.


I spent nearly four hours in the CostSaver behind campus, breathing too loud, staring at shelves on top of shelves on top of shelves as if I had lost something there (on the packaging, on the labels, between the words), dodging prime Middle American consumers as they awkwardly pushed their gluttonous carts. A security guard, female, caucasian, approximately 5'4", followed me for a while, stared down from the top of the aisle as I tried to ignore her blue form in my vision's periphery, making me nervous the way cops can. But then she got bored, approached me slowly, and asked me what I was up to, then left me alone with all those products and the realization that I didn't know what I should be doing and that staring at poorly packaged detergents and cosmetic aids, bland potato chips and inedible jerky treats, wasn't helping. I had gained nothing and lost time.

    I retreated to the fruit and vegetable section, away from the barrage of packaging and merchandise. Trying to slow my breath and concentrate on something besides failure, I watched artificial rainforest showers cover the produce with transparent beads every twelve minutes, knowing that I didn't have time to flounder. It was already night, going on late night, and then it would be morning, and then the day would be gone and so would my life, my chance at an exit from the empire of mediocrity. Or maybe my destiny was never to break free at all. But I knew that was wrong, that I could do this, because it was the only thing I could do. For all the assets I lacked (work experience, money, a family, decent clothes, athletic skills, charm, self-confidence, a background that was middle class), I knew that I had been given one great power: the ability to see things the way others couldn't, or more specifically, as others did but were unable to articulate, identify. I had the power to infect others with my own desire. Nostalgia for outdated fantasies, bottled guest-passes to oblivion or the idea of Pure Fun, I could sell it to you and make you like it, make you think you'd been begging for it all the time. All I had to do to make you want something was fall in love with it first. Then, surrounded by the purity of the products of nature, love came to me. I saw the essence of perfection. And I realized, in a blur of Philly logic, what better to pimp then perfection itself?

    It sat before me. A divine gift complete with heavenly packaging: shining Technicolor skin porous like an old drunk's nose and perfectly formed around a product that you could rip apart with your hands to reveal the bite-size pouches of flavor within, the entire structure forming into one graceful orb. And I knew I could take this creation from the most accomplished product designer in the universe, God, and make even perfection greater than it was before. I, the vegetative alchemist, was to bear life (mine) from the common orange. A simple orange. A fucking orange.

    That was the pitch, the vision: an ad campaign for the orange, presenting it in a light which the public would cry for, broadening its target consumer base beyond health freaks and concerned moms. This was the challenge. Despite all the orange's attributes, the product was still neglected at the back of supermarkets, a forgotten hopeful of the impulse buy. It was not glorious fruit that the late-night drunks and insomniacs entering convenience stores reached for, but the imperfect creations of man. The fried, salted vulgarities, bubbled from oil and thick with its fat. The glucose-encrusted chocolate kibble treats, leaving fecal-like smudges across their mouths and brown caloric mud in the unbrushed crevices of their rotting teeth. I understood (giddy and grabbing at the pile of oranges in a search of a perfectly round orb rich in the color that named it) what was missing as well: the calculated feeling of transgression modern products imply. The illicit excitement of biting something naughty, a prepackaged revolutionary freedom.


Four P.M. the next day. Sweating, disheveled and sour, I held the finished product in my hands: a portfolio filled with the print ads, packaging design, and market analysis that would start a dietary revolution. I couldn't stop looking at the photos of my creation. Didn't my orange look so utterly marketable in its clear plastic wrapper? Didn't you know that if you reached for it on a store shelf it would crinkle in your hand, calling to you in treble whispers, Take me with you, devour me, there is no greater pleasure than the life inside?

    In one photo I caught an image that showed that this creation was living, on fire, urgent. Two female hands (thank God for undergrads who sit in libraries eager for any odd excuse to walk away from books too big to be carried with them), fingers long and brown ripping through the fleshes: peel, encasing, pulp. Oh the mist, nearly invisible in real time and noticed more in the snapping away of her head as eyes squint, sweet acid like sunborne pepper spray. The frozen image revealed an orange ball exploding away from itself, shaped like an orchid beginning its bloom, with skinny hands as orgasmic midwives bearing witness to the wet scream of citric love.

    When I took the final work, my images, my impromptu creations, to the post office (4:50 P.M., please let me in the door), I was thinking, This is it; I won. This was the product. They would make me the Prince of Florida; even my offspring would be destined to reign.

    Slapping it with the spit side of the stamps, I was already planning the first prize, five thousand bucks and a guaranteed position at one of three Madison Avenue firms. All I wondered was, Which one? Because it had to happen. Broad Street and Market could no longer stand as my east-west, north-south. I was going somewhere, my game was starting. I included my picture in the package as well, as the application had asked for. It was me smiling into the digital camera at five A.M., Friday morning. Yes, slightly disheveled, naps ablaze, but staring into the camera with that kill-stink of victory. At the postal box I pulled the door open and let my message be swallowed into its benevolent blue gut. And then it was patience time. Glory be to me for I am the creator.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2013

    Berryshine

    Nice. Read my stories, the links are at ish result eight.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2013

    Nightmare Rarity chapter 9

    Rainbow hit the ceiling, sending rocks tumbling down. One hit Fluttershy, the only pony not fast enough to dodge. The rock broke her wing, making her cry out in pain. Suddenly Nightmare Rarity flinched, and she was normal, but with the wings. Everypony gasped as she plucked Rainbow out of the ceiling and fixed Fluttershys wing. Spike ran up and gave her a hug. She gave him a teary smile. But soon she backed away from everypony." Run...." she whispered." But Rarity-" Spike started." Run!" She screamed, falling to the ground. Everypony ran. Twilight had to drag Spike away." No, Rarity!" He cried. Soon they arraived to their home. Everything was still being rebuilt. They hadnt gotten far, so they slept in the remains of their homes. The next few days were harsh. Spike refused to talk to anypony, for his greif was almost too much for him. He mainly stayed in a little dark hole in the rubble. He didnt eat, sleep, or talk. Fluttershy was often found weeping under a tree, her animal friends trying to calm her. Pinkies hair remaind flat. Twilight had a tough time, with all these grief and sadness. Even Rainbow cried. <p> meanwhile... <p> Nightmare Rarity paced around her cave. How could they have gotten away? Well, she'd get them for this! They would pay! Then she flapped her wings and headed high into the sky, a wicked plan forming in her head.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2002

    A fluid use of jazzy prose and intellgent language

    If Coltrane or early Miles were writers, their prose would flow similar to Johnson's. His tasteful use of words paints realistic, satirical, fresh views of everyday life. He makes sitting on a couch seem profound and colorful. At times, I felt like Johnson has gone though my e-mails and memoirs to create his characters.At times, his style of prose riffs so far in poetic strokes he loses the true content of his narrative, leaving the reader to wonder what is literally or figurative. The ending is borderline contrived but surprising.This book made me feel less offset by and more trusting of strangers and those in the urban community. I felt hopeful and humbled after reading this piece. This book showed how brotherhood can still exist and a human spirit can grow despite shortcomings.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2002

    Couldn't Drop It

    From the opening line ("Me: thirty-one years old..."), I felt like Mat Johnson had found my personal journal and passed it off as his first novel. "Drop" is nothing short of art, and anyone who appreciates art or calls themselves an artist is doing themselves a terrible injustice if they don't read this slender yet substantial tome. The main charecter is a man at odds with the hand he's drawn from life, but still maintains shreds of dignity, conscience, and an unwavering ambition to elevate beyond his circumstances. When his dream comes true, he doesn't arise from bed...until he's unceremoniously dumped to the hard floor. An unforgettable story presented by a voice that will surely become one of Generation X's most prominent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2002

    Finally

    'Drop' Appears to be the book I've been searching for. Gripping from page one, I've been able to feel the struggle, and vindication, happiness, sadness, and sarcasm of the character through Johnsons use of raw and frank language. I am anxiously awaiting the next book by this very talented author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2002

    An Urban Intellectual

    Drop had me at page one! I have hungered for this kind of language in contemporary novels. There were pages where I laughed out loud and felt compelled to share with others around me. Johnson is quite talented. If this is his debut, I will race to read his next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2001

    Not til the middle

    It was hard for me to get into this book. I didn't get into it til the middle. The writing style was pretty good. All in all the book was pretty good. You just gotta be ready to get into becuase it won't happen right away.. so take your time and enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2000

    A new author who writes like a vetaran

    Chris Jones was a boy in the hood who became a man when he decided to chase his dream in London. His boss David is an older version of himself. Through meeting David and seeing his very own reflection, Chris started to grow as a person. This book packed with humorous descriptions, and knowledge of self.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2000

    Beautiful writing, but the storytelling...

    Beautiful style of writing that touches the emotions many of us feel. However, as brilliant as Mr. Johnson's prose is, the story in Drop left me feeling empty and frustrated. While I understood the poetic nature of the plot, it was delivered unevenly and unrealistically. And, there had to be a better way for the author to illustrate his hero's ultimate realization than the contrived and 'convenient' final scene. Read it if you must, but do so for the remarkable use of language, and not the disappointing story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2000

    The right voice

    I find a book compelling if it has a unique voicing. There are two voices that attract me. The voice in the prose or the one in the story telling. In the case of 'Drop' Mat has found both voices. The story keeps you moving forward and the phrasing is like jazz - it surprises you and makes you think about the phrasing. He keeps Chris, the main character, from becoming frustrating or irritating and keeps him believable through to the completion. I really liked this book and will re-read it in a few months. Something I seldom do.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2000

    Drop

    Funny without being slapstick and touching just when you thought you'd get away scot free. I think Mat Johnson has created the first stone in what will be a terribly fascinating and admirable monument.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2000

    Drop

    Hank runs all over the place. He makes it up and then finds the right way back again. It gets a lot of the mess right out of your pants. This isn't more of the same, but like a lot of good books it is better. Make sure it hasn't found a way to get off the map. Happily yours.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2000

    Drop

    I'd like qualify the title of my review because people will think I'm being insulting, in fact, it is a high compliment. Like Stephen King (before he started trying too damn hard to be 'literary') Mat Johnson knows how to tell a story. Things begin and they end. This is no small feat in a literary novel. His language avoids being overly proud of itself, it is direct, fluent and musical without being smug. I find his humor top shelf and almost without peer among younger writers. He's not of that hipster school of humor that is not really humor, merely self-conscious poses to avoid sincerity. Johnson is sincere and heartbreaking at times, he wants to feel emotion and wants you to as well. He cares. He writes well. He's done something worthwhile and adventurous. He is a writer.

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