Top positive review
Stark and powerful
Reviewed in the United States on January 9, 2016
The multiple voices that tell the story in *How It Went Down* constitute a symphony of grief, rage, bewilderment, exploitation, and despair in the aftermath of a black teenager’s shooting death at the hands of a white man. Mirroring the too numerous cases we see in the news these days, the black teen (Tariq Johnson) might or might not have been armed. The shooter (Jack Franklin) might or might not have been justified in his actions. The witnesses—one a would-be do-gooder (white man Brian Trellis) and the rest members of a street gang that Tariq might or might not have belonged to—might or might not be telling the truth. The only thing that’s certain in this narrative—and all of the real-life narratives that this novel emulates—is that truth is a construct and reality (along with meaning) often eludes our grasp.
Kekla Magoon skillfully orchestrates eighteen perspectives in telling the story of Tariq Johnson’s death and its aftermath. The shooting creates permanent ripple effects throughout Tariq’s community, among his family, close friends, and acquaintances. Reminiscent of Faulkner’s *As I Lay Dying*, *How It Went Down* eschews any pretense to narrative authority as it relies completely on the inevitable fallibility of first-person narration. Omniscience, Magoon seems to imply, is itself a fiction, and the only truth available to us is the one we are able to construct and live comfortably with.
An undeniably stark and powerful work of fiction, this novel addresses one of the sad realities of racism in contemporary American culture. It examines not only the senseless violence that claims the lives of innocent victims—it also takes an unflinching look at the impact of that violence on the ones left behind to mourn.