This is another selection from the Between the Covers podcast and this time I chose Lacy M. Johnson’s essay collection, THE RECKONINGS. I’m a sucker for a great essay collection and I was utterly obliterated by Johnson’s meticulous and careful examination of society’s (and her own) motivations, not to mention her intimate vulnerability.
THE RECKONINGS began when Johnson was asked what she would like to happen to her kidnapper & rapist, the experience of which is outlined in her memoir, THE OTHER SIDE. Johnson chose to reflect on that question, this idea of “justice” and its role in vengeance, violence, and how narrow our understanding of the word has limited our cultural use of the term. Her essays, in turn, reflect on this concept, ranging from art, anthropology, and so many other fields, and even Johnson’s own experience. Each of these essays is to be a “reckoning” as she describes, one that is to stir the reader and make them either reflect, act, or both in reaction to them.
Each essay brings up singular emotions in me. Each one demands some time away from the collection, to cool and recollect before progressing. Johnson plummets into the depths of these topics to tease out their intentions, their carefully laid nuances, and obstinate biases.
Ranging from topics that include not believing women when they are raped or assaulted, the concept of evil, police killings, the terrible floods in Houston, and many other contemporary issues, Johnson leaves very little untouched. How she does all of this with beautiful, concise prose that reads effortlessly, is truly amazing. Not many writers can do that, especially when it comes to dealing with immensely heavy topics.
To just offer a taste of what this collection holds for the reader, the first two essays shook me to my core. “Girlhood in a Semibarbarous Age” & “The Precarious” both tackle two issues that remain somewhat abstract to me personally, yet Johnson makes these terribly concrete in the span of a few paragraphs. The former spends time on the “sacred feminene” and seeks to analyze how women are so often treated as objects and are placed into boxes otherwise they will be forced to. The latter essay tackles guns and mass shootings, and Johnson speculates on how our institutions validate or even coerce this violence into being. Both essays reveal troubling conclusions for our times and more importantly, ourselves.
All of this to say that this is a must-read if you’re a fan of essay collections and an obvious choice if you are fans of any of the topics I listed. Johnson is a true force with poetic language and vulnerable insight and the world is enriched by her work.