Welcome to Braggsville is a strange story. It stars four friends, freshmen at Berkeley (neatly and comically arranged in a careful rainbow of races, genders, and sexual orientations) who somehow seize on the bright idea of attending a Civil War reenactment in one of the four’s Southern, small hometown, and disrupting it. Very bad ideas yield bad consequences, in this case death, multiple police inquiries, estrangement, and various acts of cruelty.
So why strange? For one thing, the tone vacillates between comedic lark and tragedy, with the first half of the book so campy as to portend a Quixotic adventure before diving inexplicably into drama. Second, the author seems determined to show off his literary skills by pulling stunts such as a one-word chapter, with copious footnotes. In your face, perhaps, but does not add much to the story. And finally I had to check that the author did attend Berkeley, for I don’t know of any student who would call it Berzerkley, or the city across the bay San Fran, or the state Cali. Only outsiders do that. And Unit 2 of the dorms is not at the top of Hearst Avenue. Google Maps, anyone?
Too bad, because the story raises all kinds of interesting and real issues about race, racism, and prejudices, drowned in misguided freshman big ideas, that would be worth exploring without distractions.