‘Virginia Is Not Your Home’ by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

Virginia Is Not Your Home by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, 2020

The magic trick:

Second-person narration imbued with familiarity telling a story of longing for community and familiarity

We’ve got a weekend double for you with two great stories from newcomer/late bloomer/the author who gives hope to all of us saying maybe I’ll get my big break when I’m 50 Jocelyn Nicole Johnson.

Both stories this weekend are in the second person. It’s a bold choice; one that risks drawing attention away from the story’s actual content. But in both case, I’d argue it’s a choice that works exceptionally well.

Here, in “Virginia Is Not Your Home,” the second person narration is especially poignant. The narration style inherently creates familiarity if not downright intimacy between the narrator and the reader. There is an assumption of shared experience.

But this is a story – if the story wasn’t clear enough for you – about alienation. It’s about longing for community, for home. It’s about looking for anyone who might have the kind of shared experience this kind of narration implies.

So when you have this intimate narration detailing something that is so individual and so disconnected from community, the result is a feeling of sadness and uneasiness for the reader. Which, in what really is the story’s masterstroke, is finally that long-sought shared experience moment.

And that’s quite a trick on Johnson’s part.

The selection:

Motherhood presents itself as a dull ache at your center. Your husband sounds ecstatic on the phone: He’ll be home in five days, seven at the most. Hang up and call Momma, who gets to sobbing – from joy? From grief? Eat unrolled Ho Hos and fried thick-cut bologna. Don’t ask yourself, Where am I headed now?

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