"John Henry Days" by Colson Whitehead

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Colson Whitehead follows up the brilliant "The Intuitionist" with another strong effort. This story recounts the trip an independent journalist (hack? flack?) makes to the small hill town where they will celebrate the legend of John Henry, the mythic steel-driving man who died in competition with a machine. The novel takes us through different historical stages in which the legend takes root and grows. The author also effectively lampoons present-day journalism, bringing up the ridiculous effort of Sutter, the hack, to break the record for traveling on consecutive press junkets.
The inventive recounting of the railroad employee himself is vivid and immediate. We see superhuman effort and very human emotion. Also memorable is a segment set in Tin Pan Alley, portrayed as squalid and noisome, where the classic folk song was written. The present-day sections of the narrative contain a realistic, non-blinking expose of the cynical efforts communities make to attract visitors, and the way the media use and abuse those efforts.

Not as cerebral or as haunting as "The Intuitionist," this novel shines in its own vivid way, nevertheless. I recommend it, and I will be moving on to Whitehead's other work.
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