Winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction
Finalist, 2002 Paterson Fiction Prize
Synopses & Reviews
In Break Any Woman Down, Dana Johnson explores race, identity, and alienation with unflinching honesty and vibrant language. Hip and seductive, her stories often feature women discovering their identities through sexual and emotional intimacy with the men in their lives. In the title story, La Donna is a black stripper whose white boyfriend, an actor in adult movies, insists that she stop stripping. In "Melvin in the Sixth Grade," eleven-year-old Avery has a crush on a white boy from Oklahoma who, like Avery, is an outsider in their suburban Los Angeles school. "Markers" is as much about a woman's relationship with her mother as it is about the dissolution of her relationship with an older Italian man. Dana Johnson has an intuitive sense of character and a gift for creating authentic voices. She effortlessly captures the rhythmic vernaculars of Los Angeles, the American South, and various immigrant communities as she brings to life the sometimes heavyhearted, but always persevering, souls who live there.
"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 Book Review
"Rich, unhurried layering showcases [Johnson's] larger themes....Both hip and elegant, these assured stories...simmer and resonate." Publishers Weekly
"Johnson's narrators are sympathetic and engaging, but the tales rely so heavily on vocal performances...that they sometimes seem more like voice-riffs than full stories. Still, a subtle and sometimes compelling vision of Los Angeleno life." Kirkus Reviews
"The narrators in these stories are old and young (mostly young), male and female (mostly female), and the language is sharp edged and contemporary." GraceAnne DeCandido, Booklist
"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
"A...sometimes comical read....Johnson's stories are ultimately bound by a desire to find a place...to fit in." USA Today
"The stories are full of the small details and disappointments of life....With its use of explicit language, this collection challenges the emotions and requires contemplation." Library Journal
"The stories in Break Any Woman Down are sexy, beautiful, and electric. Dana Johnson inhabits her characters' lives with sympathy and grace, giving voice to a chorus of non-Hollywood Los Angelenos. Through their stories, these characters reveal their hearts to us and...we see our own. This is an exciting and gorgeous literary debut." Jonathan Ames, author of The Extra Man
"A wonderful collection of vivid tales told in fresh voices, Break Any Woman Down showcases Dana Johnson's gift to render with authenticity a range of ages, nationalities, and perspectives with a verve that leaves the reader wanting more." Janet McDonald, author of Project Girl
"Whether it's 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 breathe authenticity. Johnson has got range and she's got depth. A remarkable new voice has emerged." Dalton Conley, author of Honky
"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 The Ecstatic
Break Any Woman Down
explores nuances of race, class, and gender from the freshest, most unexpected vantage point since Sapphire's Push.
In one story, Avery, an eleven-year-old from South Central Los Angeles, confronts the dislocation of moving to a white suburb. In another, La Donna, a black stripper, decides to leave her white boyfriend. In a third, a girl witnesses her uncle throw out a girlfriend she admires. Brilliantly capturing voices of the Deep South as well as of Los Angeles, Johnson's hip, sexy debut combines vivid language with unflinching honesty to bring vibrant characters to life.
About the Author
A native of Los Angeles, Dana Johnson worked as a magazine editor before completing her M.F.A. at Indiana University, where she now teaches creative writing and literature.
Table of Contents
Melvin in the Sixth Grade 1
Three Ladies Sipping Tea in a Persian Garden 17
Break Any Woman Down 34
Mouthful of Sorrow 60
Hot Pepper 75
Clay's Thinking 83
Something to Remember Me By 115