Those We Thought We Knew by David Joy
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: August 1, 2023
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Contemporary, Literary, Social Issues
The residents of Jackson, a quiet county in the North Carolina mountains, are happy believing racism is largely in their past. Until that is, reality intervenes in David Joy’s new novel, Those We Thought We Knew. Joy uses the perspectives of three local characters: two white law enforcement officers and one Black woman to strip the veneer from a place and people who thought they’d dealt with their historical demons, only to be proven wrong when opposing forces converge on the town and people die.
Toya Gardner is a Black artist who returns home to work on her graduate thesis at a nearby university. She’d been hoping for peace and quiet, but finds herself distracted and angered by how little things have changed in in the town, including the fact there’s still a Confederate monument still stands in a local park. She decides to use her art to make a statement.
At the same time as she starts creating a stir with her art, deputy Ernie Allison finds a man living in his car who turns out to be a KKK member from the Deep South and who has a phone list of state and local names as contacts. For long-time Sheriff John Coggins, this puts him in the middle between powerful players who like the status quo and a younger generation not willing to look the other way in the face of racism. Tensions in Those We Thought We Knew are heightened until they erupt in violence.
All of the characters in Those We Thought We Knew are face-to-face with a reckoning about racism and how we can fool ourselves into thinking it doesn’t exist or that we have no part in it. It’s thought-provoking reading and an acknowledgement from a white, male, Southern author that there’s still so much work that needs to be done and expecting Blacks to have to teach and explain to every individual who crosses their path and doesn’t get it is an entitled attitude. At the same time, the novel’s mystery has a resolution that felt forced, almost a cop-out. This kept it from being one of my favorites of Joy’s novels, but there’s much to be learned and appreciated in Those We Thought We Knew.
If, like me, you’re drawn to fiction about the modern day South I highly recommend David Joy’s The Line That Held Us
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*I received a free copy of this book from G.P. Putnam’s Sons in exchange for an honest review.*