Johnson’s precise word choices will have you turning over phrases, working out the nuances

Mat Johnson

Loving Day

Spiegel & Grau

Hardcover, 978-0-8129-9345-5 (also available as audiobook, as ebook, and on audio CD), 304 pgs., $26.00

May 26, 2015


“I’m not white, but I can feel the eyes of the few people outside on me, people who must think that I am, because I look white….This disconnect in my racial projection is one of the things I hate.… My mother was black — that counts, no matter how pale and Irish my father was.”


Warren Duffy’s father has died, and Warren returns to Philadelphia from Wales, leaving a failed comics shop, career, and marriage behind, to settle his father’s estate. Broke, Warren appears at a local comic convention with his illustrations, maybe to sell a book or two. Instead Warren discovers that a youthful fling with a Jewish white girl has bequeathed him a seventeen-year-old daughter, Tal. She moves in with Warren and while searching for a new school the pair discover the Mélange Center for Multiracial Life, which turns out to be a sort of biracial commune for “inclusion of all perspectives of the…mixed-race experience.” Is this the answer to Warren’s search for home?


Loving Day is about belonging, responsibility, identity, and racism: intended and default, personal and institutional, rabid and casual. The fast-paced plot alternates between elements of tragedy and farce;  Johnson has an eagle eye for the absurdities of race in this country. Warren’s first-person narrative effuses equal parts sharp wit, bewilderment, and longing — he should belong everywhere but instead doesn’t belong anywhere.


Johnson’s precise word choices will have you turning over phrases, working out the nuances. “I am a racial optical illusion,” says Warren. “I am as visually duplicitous as the illustration of the young beauty that’s also the illustration of the old hag. Whoever sees the beauty will always see the beauty, even if the image of the hag can be pointed out to exist in the same etching. Whoever sees the hag will be equally resolute.”


Johnson is wicked-funny, as in this observation of a romantic rival: “This horrid, coveting, appropriating, ball of self-love shaped like a man.” And he is charming-funny: “I take –7 vulnerability points on all attractive female geek attacks.”


Johnson is equally adept at grabbing your heart and squeezing. When Warren meets Tal:


I keep looking at her face. She lets me, connects her eyes with mine this time and lets me hold the gaze. And then I see my mom. I really see her, for the first time in twenty-four years. And then I start to cry. Just a little teary in the eye, it happens before I can put words to why and I grip the girl’s hand firmer. I see my mother, and her mother, Gramma Jones, and Aunt Katie. Facies I thought were gone from existence, they are right in front of me.


Warren is of two minds regarding the Mélange Center (“Mulattopia”). “The very idea, of creating a tribe where I would fully belong, of changing my definition to fit me instead of the other way around, terrifies me. It scares me because it’s not crazy. It’s attractive, logical even. It’s just priced at abandoning my existing identity and entire worldview.”


Loving Day is the best kind of literature. It made me laugh; it made me cry; and it made me think.