‘Welcome to Braggsville’ by T Geronimo Johnson (2015) – 354 pages
‘Welcome to Braggsville’ sometimes reads more like a good stand-up comedy routine than a novel. It is a clever performance, an extended riff, and with also some tragedy along the way.
First, here is the plot of ‘Welcome to Braggsville’. A white boy Daron, valedictorian of his high school class, from the small Georgia town of Braggsville goes off to college to California in Berkeley, affectionately called Berzerkeley. While there he befriends a Malaysian would-be stand-up comedian Louis, a black ex-athlete Charlie, and a girl student Candice who claims to be one-eighth Native American Indian. They form a clique and call themselves the Four Little Indians.
Daron mentions in class that his home town Braggsville stages a Civil War reenactment every year during its Pride Week Patriot Days Festival which happens to coincide with Spring Break this year. The Four Little Indians decide to travel back to Braggsville to mount a ‘performative intervention’ protest at the reenactment, a mock lynching. What could possibly go wrong?
Politically aware cosmopolitan Berkeley meets small town Southern-fried America. That is the conflict at the heart of ‘Welcome to Braggsville’. So these four diverse Berkeley students go back to Braggsville, Georgia for Spring Break. Braggsville is the kind of town where you might have a female relative named Aunt Chester. We do meet some good old white boys like Daron’s wild-ass cousin Quint, but even Quint is presented as a somewhat likable fellow. The black people in Braggsville all must live in their own section of town across the Holler called the Gully, yet this being a small town the blacks and whites interact more than they do in a large city. We get a more honest real picture of what Braggsville is like than how a professor at Berkeley might picture it to be.
The climactic event in the novel occurs about one-third of the way through, and perhaps the novel goes on too long afterwards especially since this main event is never resolved.
I want to end with a short quote that shows the comic spirit of ‘Welcome to Braggsville’. Here is the Malaysian Louis talking about the Braggsville general store:
“I was at this store, Lou Davis’s, and it was like a Chinese store, you had everything: meat, bumper stickers, everything. In Chinatown, it’s like that. You can buy fruit and bread and get your teeth pulled in back. Anyway at Lou Davis’s I saw some strange stuff, like headcheese and all, and thought, hmmm, headcheese. Maybe these people are weird. Then I had an image of my grandma eating, guess what, chicken feet! I thought, Okay, Southerners are like Chinese.”
Maybe you had to be there.
Grade : B+