By Brian Dunlap
NOTE: This is the second book in Los Angeles Literature’s Black History Month series highlighting the L.A. literature written by black authors.
The story collection In The Not Quite Dark by Los Ángeles native Dana Johnson is about race, specifically blackness, gentrification, love and class in L.A. Many of these stories take place downtown and weave the city’s history into their narratives.
The Kirkus Review’s review of In The Not Quite Dark says of Johnson’s use of L.A. history that, “…the theme of history carr[ies] through…Eleven…stories that look at the past to portray the present.” This history about Biddy Mason, the Pacific Electric Red Cars and others, she weaves around portrayals of characters both privileged and oppressed. Johnson’s characters deal with these large issues and history by how they define and influence their most intimate moments. In the title story Publishers Weekly says, “Dean Wilkerson tries to make his mother see the beauty of his historic downtown apartment building, the Pacific Electric Lofts. She wishes he lived somewhere else more private and further from Skid Row.”
The characters in In The Not Quite Dark are dealing with their history in the context of Los Ángeles gentrification and the city’s history, in a city famously stereotyped as having none. As some of these black characters and contemplating what their place is within the city, or if they have one at all, in the present or in the future, Johnson explores “what it can mean to be from somewhere,” as Publishers Weekly says. In doing so, she calls into question the nature of assumptions and assumptions they have about L.A.’s history and blacks place within it.
As the L.A. Times says, Dana Johnson’s stories, “Will put you directly on the ground with her characters.”