Books by Greg Johnson

Released: Oct. 2, 2007

"'Love. Friendship. Art. Work. These are my values,' Oates says. Watching her juggle them in these replete pages is a stimulating experience."
Tensions between public image and private self are engagingly acknowledged and analyzed in illuminating excerpts from journals begun during the second decade of this prolific author's remarkable career. Read full book review >
STICKY KISSES by Greg Johnson
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

"Witty, poignant, and true."
Atlanta-based author Johnson (Pagan Babies, 1993; stories: I Am Dangerous, 1996) returns to familiar themes with a southern family brought together, transformed, and in part destroyed by AIDS. Read full book review >
Released: April 2, 1998

An authorized portrait of the intensely prolific novelist as an artist and a person. As Oates's literary executor, fiction writer Johnson (Pagan Babies, 1993; I Am Dangerous, 1996; etc.) wisely uses his access to her presumably massive hoard of papers to develop relatively select themes important in her life. He traces her understanding of violence, for example, to incidents from her family's past; to Oates's schoolyard brushes with brutality in her rural New York hometown; to her mid-1960s stint in riot-charged Detroit; and also to several eerie, Rothian, and ominous encounters with fans and students. Her compassion for victims also originated, Johnson says, in her childhood, as did her devotion to ``memorializing'' her parents. But the strongest force animating Oates is doubtless her will to produce, displayed for decades in her famous literary profusion, resulting from a routine protected by a ``bourgeois'' lifestyle and stable marriage to the scholar and critic Raymond Smith. Intertwined with the biographical narrative, Johnson provides a blandly respectful overview of of the writers artistic growth, charted partly through the record offered in her journal entries. Throughout, Johnson heeds Oates's belief that biographies should be ``solidly grounded in fact''; the result is a full characterization of a multilayered, idiosyncratic woman. In fact, the book is so stocked with documentation that it sometimes goes over the top. For non-diehard Oatesians, this excess will be too much, reflecting the main drawback of nearly all biographies written by allies of the portrayed subject: a loyalty that tends to overstep its bounds. A more basic narrative problem is the relatively quiet life Oates has led, tame at least by the standards of literary lions. This life of talent dutifully plied, sustained, and rewarded offers less drama and excitement than any of the tales Oates has concocted in her fiction. Read full book review >
I AM DANGEROUS by Greg Johnson
Released: July 16, 1996

A third collection from Johnson (Distant Friends, 1990, etc.) offers 13 tight, knowing, well-told stories. The tales are set in the New South, a land of fallen aristocrats and upstart money. It's this incisive presentation of class that lends Johnson's work a certain caustic European tenor, making him sound sometimes like Chekhov, sometimes like Ibsen, often like Cheever or James. In ``A House of Trees,'' a drunken, unemployed father shakes his petulant son out of a tree, crippling him for life; in ``Hemingway's Cats,'' a honeymoon in the Florida Keys is complicated when the bridegroom's father shows up unannounced with some bad news for the bride; and ``In the Deep Woods'' features a financially overwhelmed father groping for recognition in front of an overly sensitive son, this time while hunting. Johnson doesn't limit himself to little boys' yarns, either: ``Scene of the Crime'' finds a daughter avenging herself against her materialistic mother, and ``Little Death'' explores the theme of abortion through the experiences of a homely teenager. The author also showcases an affection for the neo-gothic family so beloved of southern writers: ``Evening at Home'' opens with a minor kitchen accident and closes with a shared, silent sense of grief between father and daughter over how strange Mom has become. Johnson also works some artful variations on the theme of Catholic guilt. ``Sanctity'' dismantles the horrors of a parochial school, while ``Leavetaking,'' with its insightful summary of a crumbling young marriage, reads like early Updike. Then there are the booze stories, such as ``Last Night,'' in which a solitary drinker, who has just gone on the wagon, falls disastrously off when he's forced to spend time with his wine-swilling, duplicitous girlfriend. The Walker Percy-esque title piece is, unfortunately, the weakest, an excuse to muse existential on a chance movie-theater encounter. Exceptionally strong, confident writing from an author who shows his literary roots while gracefully blending ancient anxieties and modern concerns. Read full book review >
PAGAN BABIES by Greg Johnson
Released: Feb. 16, 1993

Johnson's first novel after story collections (Distant Friends; A Friendly Deceit) follows two childhood friends to adulthood; here, unappealing characters engage in part because they seem so real, in part because the author's obvious concern for them rubs off. In a small eastern Texas city, Janice Rundgren and Clifford Bannon are both outsiders: She's rebellious; her home—though in the good part of town—is unhappy; his divorced, manic-depressive mother—to preserve her standing in the Catholic Church—makes Clifford pretend his father is dead. When Janice claims Clifford as soulmate, he is drawn to her but repeatedly distances himself, fearing what he sees as her voraciousness. He is also discovering art and his homosexuality (``Father Culhane had explained what to do if you encountered a bad companion, but what if you suspected...that you were one?''). During their adolescence, Clifford is appalled that Janice considers herself his girlfriend just because they regularly have sex; she confuses his rather brutal and punishing sexual behavior with passion. Meanwhile, Janice gets pregnant, and Clifford is briefly delighted by thoughts of marriage and fatherhood; after a car crash causes Janice's miscarriage, however, he flees to Atlanta leaving her behind. Years later—always feeling the ambivalent weight of their personal history and Catholic upbringing—the two manage to resume their friendship (or ``fiendship'') under the shadow of AIDS, despite the emotional mess when Clifford walks off with Janice's fiancÇ. The voices of gossiping schoolgirls reappear throughout Johnson's debut novel and set the tone: the fascinating sense of knowing intimate secrets about someone in spite of having little personal connection. Read full book review >