Break Any Woman Down
By Dana Johnson
(University of Georgia Press, Hardcover, 9780820323152, 157pp.)
Publication Date: September 2001
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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.
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.
"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
"You can hear Johnson's voices ringing long after you put the stories down; you feel purged and rested and in the company of good friends, not strangers. No character could stay a stranger long in this writer's hands."--Los Angeles Times Book Review
"A subtle and sometimes compelling vision of Los Angeleno life."--Kirkus Reviews
"The nine stories collected here deservedly won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. In each, Johnson explores the interactions among men and women, women and women, parents and children, whites and blacks, young and old, and the living and the dying most vainly searching for a place to be, physically and/or emotionally. . . . The stories are full of the small details and disappointments of life, the missed opportunities and the inopportune moments that change one's trajectory. . . . This collection challenges the emotions and requires contemplation."--Library Journal