Sweet By and By (Johnson)

Book Reviews
Packed with so much poignancy readers might want to keep tissues handy.... This novel carries in it lessons of family, friends, kindness, generosity and love...heartfelt.... [Johnson] realistically portrays the challenges the elderly face and captures the authentic voices of these five very different women. This is a novel not to be missed.
Las Vegas Review-Journal


Give Todd Johnson an "A." He made me laugh and cry. Johnson's...five women...are as convincing as Reynolds Price's Kate Vaiden and Allan Gurganus' Lucy Marsden. From the first page they step into your life and start talking pure Southern music.
Raleigh News & Observer


Gentle, sensitive...sometimes funny, occasionally sad, and ultimately life-affirming. Johnson has done an admirable job of making each woman distinct and memorable. The reader will have a clear picture of each in mind-and will feel fond of them..a fine debut. I look forward to seeing what Johnson writes next.
Winston-Salem Journal


This debut novel eloquently tells the story of five North Carolina women, and it is quite simply one of the most beautifully written books you'll ever read. The story plays like music in the heart. Descriptions promise a laugh. Beautifully crafted dialogue brings a quick catch in the throat. Strength fills this book, while reinforcing the love and respect Southerners hold for their mothers, grandmothers, friends, and daughters. Packed with so much poignancy readers might want to keep tissues handy...this novel carries in it lessons of family, friends, kindness, generosity and love...heartfelt... [Johnson] realistically portrays the challenges the elderly face and captures the authentic voices of these five very different women. This is a novel not to be missed.
Southern Living


Read The Sweet By and By. In his debut novel, Todd Johnson explores the lives of five Southern women who are unexpectedly connected to each other. While most of the action takes place in a nursing home, their stories never fall short of livelihood. Think of it as Steel Magnolias meets The Golden Girls.
Real Simple


Johnson's bittersweet and often humorous hen-lit debut portrays the lives of five very different Southern women: compassionate Lorraine, bossy Margaret, grief-stricken Bernice, ambitious April and brusque Rhonda. At the center of this character-driven novel is Lorraine, a nurse at the nursing home where Margaret and Bernice live. As the three women drift into friendship, hairdresser Rhonda arrives to take a part-time job, and the older women begin to change her life. Lorraine's daughter, April, meanwhile, is also gradually drawn into the circle. The story unfolds slowly over decades and life milestones, giving the characters plenty of time to reveal themselves. Johnson has a sure ear for Southern speech, though the dialect can become tiresome, and the narrative's lack of plot makes the novel feel overlong. Nevertheless, the underlying message of the power of love and friendship resonates, as does its depiction of the way in which people leading unremarkable lives can have a tremendous impact on those around them.
Publishers Weekly


You may feel like your Southern ladies lit shelf is crammed, but you'll want to save a place for this debut novel—essentially a hymn of praise for licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Set in an eastern North Carolina nursing home, the book follows Lorraine, an African American nurse; her daughter, April; Margaret and Bernice, elderly white patients; and Rhonda, a younger, white hairdresser who comes on Sundays. Moving back and forth in time, Johnson does a fine job of illustrating the rich inner lives of those imprisoned by failing mental or physical health. Although not without its flaws, the novel moves beyond stereotypes as Lorraine lives in loving service to those unable to do for themselves. Like so many Southern novels, strong women predominate, and good men seem scarce. One may wish to know more about Rhonda's and April's lives, but the irrepressible Bernice and her obsessive antics over a prized stuffed monkey compensate. Even with the conundrum of an abundance of good fiction and limited budgets, novels about everyday people like Lorraine are in short supply. Strongly recommended for popular and Southern fiction collections.
Rebecca Kelm - Library Journal


Two nursing-home residents inspire their hairdresser and caregiver, in Broadway producer (The Color Purple) Johnson's often preachy first novel. Lorraine, an African-American practical nurse, suppresses traumatic memories of an abusive husband and the crib death of her firstborn by concentrating on creating a semblance of normalcy for her charges at Ridgecrest, a North Carolina nursing home. Lorraine's favorites are Margaret, who is struggling to maintain her faculties in this dementia-conducive setting, and Bernice, frankly and unapologetically gaga, accompanied always by her monkey doll, Mister Benny. Rhonda, painfully conscious of her poor white origins, does hair at Ridgecrest once a week, and, spurred on by Margaret, Lorraine and Bernice, gradually gains self-acceptance. April, Lorraine's daughter, has become a doctor, making her mother proud. The present arc takes us through various occasions at the nursing home—Christmas, Mother's Day, Fourth of July, etc.—where we see in action the ambivalence and anger of Margaret and Bernice toward the middle-aged children who have consigned them to Ridgecrest. In a scene that fails to deliver its tragicomic intent, Benny meets his end when he's tossed on a barbecue grill by a crotchety geezer. There's the obligatory escape sequence, wherein Margaret and Bernice slip out the back door at night and head for a local ice-cream parlor, then to Raleigh, where they spend the night in a hotel. After the adventure proves too much for Bernice (she passes away in her sleep in the hotel room), the story loses whatever impetus it had. Letters left behind, written by Bernice to her beloved younger son Wade after his death in a car crash, convincingly if anticlimactically document her descent into madness. Extended meditations by the surviving principals (except Margaret, who thankfully retains her refreshing cynicism) on the Big Questions make for a predictable and lifeless denouement. Earnest, and funny in spots, but it too often sacrifices depth for wisecracks and original insights for cliches.
Kirkus Reviews

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