Elsewhere, California: A Novel

Elsewhere, California: A Novel

by Dana Johnson
     
 

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We first met Avery in two of the stories featured in Dana Johnson’s award–winning collection Break Any Woman Down. As a young girl, she and her family escape the violent streets of Los Angeles to a more gentrified existence in suburban West Covina. This average life, filled with school, trips to 7–Eleven to gawk at Tiger Beat magazine, and family

Overview


We first met Avery in two of the stories featured in Dana Johnson’s award–winning collection Break Any Woman Down. As a young girl, she and her family escape the violent streets of Los Angeles to a more gentrified existence in suburban West Covina. This average life, filled with school, trips to 7–Eleven to gawk at Tiger Beat magazine, and family outings to Dodger Stadium, is soon interrupted by a past she cannot escape, personified in the guise of her violent cousin Keith.

When Keith moves in with her family, he triggers a series of events that will follow Avery throughout her life: to her studies at USC, to her burgeoning career as a painter and artist, and into her relationship with a wealthy Italian who sequesters her in his glass–walled house in the Hollywood Hills. The past will intrude upon Avery’s first gallery show, proving her mother’s adage: Every goodbye aint gone. The dual–narrative of Elsewhere, California illustrates the complicated history of African Americans across the rolling basin of Los Angeles.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Avery is nine when her family escapes L.A.’s gang violence and moves to the suburbs, becoming the only black people in the neighborhood. Feeling alienated, but impressionable, Avery adjusts by way of Tiger Beat, Shaun Cassidy collages, and a mouthy best friend. At 40, Avery has become a visual artist, her rich and sensual Italian boyfriend clearly instrumental in helping her find the self-acceptance that eluded her for so long. This wildly vivid novel unfolds, zigzagging between Avery’s past and present and exploring all the ways in which one continues to both haunt and electrify the other. Johnson, a California native and professor of English at the University of Southern California, introduced Avery in her Flannery O’Connor Award–winning story collection, Break Any Woman Down. In this debut novel, Johnson brilliantly knits the dual narratives together, maintaining a dynamic balance between nimble language and rowdy, vulnerable characters. The real achievement is the honest, compassionate, and unflinching willingness to honor teenage struggles for identity, confidence, and love while listening to Led Zeppelin and rooting for the Dodgers. A prologue that feels forced is instantly rendered unnecessary by the surefire language that explodes with chapter one. Agent: Rosalie Siegel. (June)
From the Publisher

Praise for Elsewhere, California

"Avery's evolution — a black woman trying to claim her place — is as heartbreaking as it is humorous, powerful as it is poignant, because Johnson so assertively confronts those complexities." —Lynell George, The Los Angeles Times

"Johnson’s Elsewhere, California is a clear-eyed jam on class, race, and love; sassy yet searing." —Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

“In this debut novel, Johnson brilliantly knits the dual narratives together, maintaining a dynamic balance between nimble language and rowdy, vulnerable characters. The real achievement is the honest, compassionate, and unflinching willingness to honor teenage struggles for identity, confidence, and love while listening to Led Zeppelin and rooting for the Dodgers.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Reading Elsewhere, California, Dana Johnson’s luminous, intelligent, linguistically dexterous first novel about growing up in Southern California, made me understand exponentially more about my own state, my own growing up, and the private lives of families in the homes all around me. An impressive, inspiring debut!”
—Michelle Huneven, author of Blame

"Beautifully wrought. A contemporary Bildungsroman with a wise and winning heroine at its heart." —T.C. Boyle

"I am in love with a woman named Avery and I have only heard her voice. She exists in these pages, radiates from them. Dana Johnson weaves the complex strings of modern identity into a tapestry that is both familiar yet refreshingly new." —Mat Johnson, author of Pym

“Dana Johnson's extraordinary novel offers an arresting vision of black female identity that transcends color and class even as it reveals its continuing power in our lives. The main character, Avery, is everything at once: struggling and middle-class, black and not-quite-black-enough, sexually invisible and sexually exoticized. Avery is about as complex and compelling a heroine as I've read recently, and Elsewhere, California is a luminous, funny, and poignant tale that speaks directly to a whole generation raised in a state of cultural confusion.”
—Danzy Senna, author of You Are Free and Caucasia

“I love listening to Avery talk about anything and everything, from the Dodgers to the art world to neighborhood negotiations to certain brands of shorts. Here is a character with an intensely engaging voice, surrounded by an equally riveting cast, all created by a writer who knows how to make words— and people— sparkle on the page."
—Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Praise for Break Any Woman Down:

“Dana Johnson’s collection of stories contains so many wonderful women. Living, breathing, making a million mistakes, but you understand every one of them. Sometimes you think your heart will burst, but the pain is illustrated with depth, clarity, and beauty.”
–Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine and The Ecstatic

“This is an exciting and gorgeous literary debut.”
–Jonathan Ames, author of The Extra Man

“You can hear Johnson’s voices ringing long after you put the stories down…No character could stay a stranger long in this writer’s hands.”
–Los Angeles Times

“[A] sometimes comical read…Johnson’s stories are ultimately bound by the human desire to find a place…to fit in.”
–USA Today

“Deftly achieves both art and amusement…Johnson’s ability to coax the heart as much as the mind…marks the author as a storyteller at her most potent.”
–Seattle Weekly

“Whether its an awkward sixth grader with a crush, a pair of brazen Iranian sisters, or a male porno star who bakes a mean ziti, Dana Johnson’s characters breath authenticity. Johnson has got range and she’s got depth. A remarkable new voice has emerged.”
–Dalton Conley, author of Honky

“Rich, unhurried layering showcases [Johnson’s] larger themes…Both hip and elegant, these assured stories…simmer and resonate.”
–Publishers Weekly

“Johnson renders with authenticity a range of ages, nationalities, and perspectives with a verve that leaves the reader wanting more.”
–Janet McDonald, author of Project Girl

“These stories are full of the small details and disappointments of life, the missed opportunities and the inopportune moments that change one’s trajectory.”
–Library Journal

“Johnson’s narrators are sympathetic and engaging…A subtle and sometimes compelling vision of Los Angelino life.”
–Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
When her father's passion for a better life moved the family from Los Angeles' 80th Street to West Covina, Avery Arlington liked the suburb's "promised stellar living." Now she's not so sure. Avery, once in suburbia, disconnects, pulled toward angst and rebellion by her new best friend, Brenna, yet ensnared by the hard-line rules of her über-strict parents. Brenna is white, Avery African-American. Also in the mix: Avery's cousin, Keith, flitting between Avery's home and his single mother's house in Victorville--and between trouble and rebellion. The story shifts between Avery's childhood, descriptions and dialogue redolent of the rural south and of the 'hood, and the present day. Adult Avery lives in a Schnabel house wannabe in the moneyed hills of West Los Angeles. Avery graduated from USC--Johnson's comprehension of poor girl among the rich is superb--and satisfied her parents' ambitions. Soon after, she met and moved in with Massimo, an Italian immigrant and successful attorney. Avery holds a business degree, but her passion is art, both painting and collage, metaphorically symbolic of her self-constructed life, "putting together all my pieces of discarded things." As much as Avery's art represents the self she constructed, the shadow of Keith, thief and drug addict, hanging over and haunting her life, represents the oppression of choice, success and failure. Johnson's novel speaks to race, class and culture; white, black, Hispanic and immigrant; the world as it is, and as it should be. Meditative literary fiction, a near-dream-state reflection on the duality of life.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781582437842
Publisher:
Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
06/12/2012
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
997,501
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

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Meet the Author


Dana Johnson is the author of Break Any Woman Down, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Born and raised in and around Los Angeles, California, she is an associate professor of English at the University of Southern California.

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