(Reviewed by JD Jung)
I’m usually critical of short stories. They tend to leave me unsatisfied, wanting more. I’m left unsure of what makes the characters tick, and what ultimately happens to them. So needless to say when I was visiting New Orleans, I hesitated as to whether I should pick up a copy of Barb Johnson’s debut, More of This World or Maybe Another. I must say that I’m glad I took the plunge. I didn’t know what I was in for and boy, was I pleasantly surprised!
Maybe it’s because as I read each of the nine stories of the collection, I learned more about the characters and their relationships to each other. In the first story, the title piece, we meet Delia, a teenager from a working class New Orleans family. Though she questions her sexuality, in a later story she becomes engaged (what else to girls do in the 1960s and 70s?). The collection isn’t all about Delia though, as we meet many personalities as they convey life from their unique perspectives. Among them are her brother Dooley, and friend Pudge. This book is as much about them as it is about her.
Each story can stand alone, but together they build up to a complete novel. You will have questions as you read, but they will all be answered.
There is a gritty quality to the collection; realism sprinkled with dark humor. We experience a lot of heartbreak, but we also see a strong hope for the future.
Maybe that’s because most of the stories were written right after Hurricane Katrina, though the disaster isn’t mentioned at all. Instead Johnson returns to the New Orleans of her past. In fact, at the end of the book, Johnson, a former carpenter, tells us about her motivation for the book.
She writes about what she knows of best: “gay girls and oil refineries, fatherless boys stuck in the maze, alienated people living off the grid, and folks who sit in abandoned cars to do their serious thinking.”
I wasn’t able to put More of This World or Maybe Another down. Was it because of the stories themselves, the ambiance of New Orleans, empathy for the characters, or an authenticity to the writing? I would say all of the above. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who I wouldn’t recommend this book to.