Title: Loving Day
Ratings: Violence—3; Sensuality—4; Humor—3
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (Random House) (5/2015)
On his first night in his new home, Warren spies two figures outside in the grass. When he screws up the nerve to confront them, they disappear. The next day he encounters ghosts of a different kind: In the face of a teenage girl he meets at a comics convention he sees the mingled features of his white father and his black mother, both now dead. The girl, Tal, is his daughter, and she's been raised to think she's white.
Spinning from these revelations, Warren sets off to remake his life with a reluctant daughter he’s never known, in a haunted house with a history he knows too well. In their search for a new life, he and Tal struggle with ghosts, fall in with a Utopian mixed-race cult, and ignite a riot on Loving Day, the unsung holiday for interracial lovers.
Mat Johnson, son of an African American mother and an Irish American father, writes this novel as a semi-autobiographical metaphor about race and identity in America. The book's title comes from an unofficial holiday commemorating the Supreme Court's 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia that struck down all laws banning interracial marriage in America. In the book, the protagonist compares the celebration to a "Mulatto Christmas." In an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air," Johnson explains that one reason he wrote the book was because he was tired of constantly having to explain himself—his identity, his race, his ethnicity—to people. "I am tired of talking about this. It really feels like I'm walking around all day with an ink stain in my breast pocket. You know? That ink stain might be four years old, but every time I walk down the hall, somebody's like, hey, you know, you got an ink stain in your pocket. It's...unbelievably exhausting. So...this book is being born today...But for me, it's the funeral for this book, and it's the funeral for having to talk about these issues...I needed to say them. I needed to get them all out on paper, but I don't need to keep them with me forever...I want to put them in the pages of the book, close the book, and keep it...at your local library where I don't have to carry this stuff anymore." In Loving Day, Johnson's protagonist, Warren Duffy, calls himself "a racial optical illusion…black, with an asterisk. The asterisk is my whole body." Later he refers to himself as an "Afro-Celt. Not even half of the right kind of honky."
As the story opens, Warren has just returned to Philadelphia feeling like his life has been a succession of failures: his broken marriage, his sputtering career as an "inept" comic book artist, his lack of money, and now the inheritance left to him by his recently deceased father—a dilapidated, roofless monstrosity of a house: "In the ghetto there is a mansion, and it is my father's house. It sits on seven acres, surrounded by growling row homes, frozen in an architectural class war. Its expansive lawn is utterly useless, wild like it smokes its own grass and dreams of being a jungle…This house is a job for a legion, not one person. It would kill one person. It did—my father. I am one person now. My father's house is on me I see it from the back of the cab, up on its hill, rotting." Warren views it as "Sisyphus's boulder, just with doors and beams" and immediately decides that he will probably burn it down for the insurance money.