three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
16-May-June-2005
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And Other Bedtime Stories

A-DrKingRefrigIn the title story, Martin Luther King, Jr. rummages through his fridge in the middle of the night and finds unexpected inspiration. The other seven stories in this collection from the National Book Award-winning author are similar in execution: they are all concise, modern fairy tales. In "Executive Decisions," a hiring manager must decide between two equal candidates: a white woman and a black man. "Sweet Dreams" is set in a world where dreams are taxed; in "Cultural Relativity" a woman forbidden to kiss her fiancé puts the matter to a test.
Scribner. 123 pages. $20. ISBN: 0743264533

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Although Dr. King’s Refrigerator has a few flaws—some stories become didactic, others could make their points more forcefully—they are minor in a collection that is more inventive than invective, more philosophical than puerile." Paula L. Woods

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… Johnson is once again at the ready with his quirky, professorial writing style and his melange of Buddhism, Western philosophy, and African magic realism. … Taken together, the collection reads like the narrative version of koans—Zen riddles used to focus the mind during meditation." ZZ Packer

Oregonian 2 of 5 Stars
"… eight tales packed in a slim 123-page volume, flush with potential but flat on delivery. … ‘Better Than Counting Sheep’ and ‘Cultural Relativity’ are setups for stale punch lines—that faculty meetings are boring is a jab best left to intradepartmental memos."
J. David Santen Jr.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 of 5 Stars
"… bland and transparent tiny tales. … Adding to the insubstantial content is Johnson’s crabbed, pedantic writing that jumbles arch word usage with cliches." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

Critics have decidedly mixed reviews for Johnson’s third short story collection. Johnson, who teaches at the University of Washington and was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant, wrote most of these stories for the Washington Commission for the Humanities. The majority read like fiction exercises; most critics praise them only as simple "bedtime stories" with little underlying depth. The few challenging entries—most notably "Kwoon" and "The Gift of the Osuo"—are much more successful (and have been previously anthologized). Unlike the clever set-ups and quick pay-offs of the shortest stories here, these two tales demonstrate the author’s considerable—if sometimes hidden—talent.

Also by the Author

Middle Passage (1990): Award Star National Book Award. In 1830, Rutherford Calhoun, a newly freed slave, finds himself aboard a slave ship headed to Africa—and a horrifying, enlightening journey ensues.