Cover image for The Harris family
The Harris family
Johnson, R. M. (Rodney Marcus)
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2001]

Physical Description:
347 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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X Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Urban Fiction
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



In this sequel to his acclaimed debut The Harris Men, Blackboard bestselling author Johnson delivers a page-turning drama about three brothers and their struggle to find love, stability and happiness in the wake of their fatherless childhood.

Author Notes

R. M. Johnson is a former radiation specialist whose first book, The Harris Men reached #5 on the Blackboard Bestseller list.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

In Johnson's previous novel, The Harris Men, Julius Harris was diagnosed with terminal cancer at age fifty-five. Julius travels from California to Chicago to seek out his sons in a desperate attempt for absolution for his 25-year absence from their lives. Five years after his fruitless attempt at reconciliation, Julius learns that his cancer is in remission, and he begins to hope for another opportunity to reconnect with his sons. Austin, the oldest, is struggling with his coparenting arrangement with his ex-wife; Marcus, the middle son, is hurt and angry about his family relationships and uses those insecurities to damage his relationship with his girlfriend; and Caleb, the youngest son, has just been released from prison with high hopes of reuniting with his woman and son. Although each man values his family and his children, they all learn, at an awfully high price, the true meaning of family. A compassionate novel with strong characters. --Lillian Lewis

Publisher's Weekly Review

Johnson's sequel to The Harris Men picks up five years after the previous book ended, reintroducing readers to guilt-plagued patriarch Julius Harris and his three estranged sons: Austin, Marcus and Caleb. It tries to explore issues of forgiveness, redemption and familial solidarity within a humanistic framework, but is quickly sunk by graceless prose, hilariously awkward dialogue "My nipples are so hard I could cut diamonds," one breathless lover murmurs and a sensibility so middlebrow it would make Barry Manilow wince. Worse yet, Johnson's cast of middle-class African-American protagonists comprises only vapid, generic and underdeveloped soap opera stereotypes. In The Harris Man, Julius discovered he had cancer, and tried to reconcile with the adult sons he abandoned years ago; now, he learns that the cancer has gone into remission. Since Julius was able to win over only Caleb in the previous book, he spends most of this one working on Marcus and Austin. Along the way, the narrative shifts between Julius and each of his progeny, all of whom have grown up with some pretty serious character defects, as a result of not having a father around during their formative years. Marcus is self-centered and juvenile, reluctant to commit to his girlfriend, Reecie. Austin is similarly shallow, an arrogant lawyer who's willing to play custody games with his kids just to get back at his ex-wife. Caleb, an ex-con, is the best of the lot, but his quest to rescue former girlfriend Sonya and son Jahlil from evil drug-dealer Curtis is pure pulp melodrama. It occasionally manages to be trashily readable, but Johnson's second effort is mostly flat, predictable and trite. Agent, Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Associates. 5-city author tour. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter Two "Get down!" Caleb yelled, and quickly Blue turned to see the barrel of the store owner's shotgun staring him in the eyes. With that, Blue threw himself to the floor. Ray Ray spun around, his eyes ballooned, turning his gun as quickly as he could, trying to shoot the man before he was shot himself. But before he had the gun swung halfway in the direction of the man, the deafening explosion from the shotgun was heard. Caleb closed his eyes now, trying not to think about what had happened to him and his two friends when they attempted to rob a convenience store five years ago. Caleb was twenty-seven then, and had lost his job, was months behind on his rent, and he and his family were on the verge of getting evicted. He would've done anything in his power to stop that from happening. Not only because he didn't want to see his family homeless but because he had been trying to prove to Sonya that he was capable of taking care of her and their child, after he had failed on a number of previous occasions, by losing countless jobs and by getting into trouble. So if he failed them once again, he would be proving that he was unable to provide for them, and if that happened, Sonya assured him that she would leave and take their son with her. "We do this one time, Caleb," Blue said, grabbing Caleb by the shoulder, his blue-black face frowning seriously. "We go in, get your money, and be out." Caleb wanted no part of it. What if something went wrong? What if they got caught? He would lose Sonya for sure. And it was as if Blue was reading his mind, because he said, "If you don't get this rent, Sonya gonna leave you anyway." Caleb looked over at the corner of the room where Ray Ray was sitting, lazily pulling an Afro comb through his long hair. He nodded his head in agreement with what Blue said. Going to his brothers for the money was out of the question, because that would just prove once again that he wasn't able to provide for himself. So this seemed the only way. But it had all gone wrong, and now, five years later, Caleb closed his eyes, and tried to block the images of that day out of his mind. But he could not rid himself of the painful memory, could not pull himself away from the awful grip the past had on him. He was forced to relive that moment. After the shots were heard, the bullets sped across the room, finding their way into the soft flesh of Ray Ray's heavy body, into his chest, where there they exploded, tearing through him, sending him crashing into a wall of shelves. His body slowly slid down the shelves, a trail of his bloody insides dripping down over his head. Blue ran to Ray Ray, stood over his large body a moment, shocked. He quickly, nervously, scanned the area, looking around him, as if there would be something lying about he could use to save his friend's life. Finding nothing, he fell to his knees and took his injured friend's head in his hands. Ray Ray's chest was torn, blood, lungs, and shattered fragments of his ribs seeping from the wound, as he lay there twisted in the corner of the store's floor. Blue started frantically slapping his cheek, trying to keep him from slipping into death. And Ray Ray was trying not to go there, trying to fight death from taking him. He whipped his head about, his eyes wide, whirling about in his head, as if he was expecting to see the paramedics burst the door open, or Caleb fall to his knees and start CPR, or whatever people do to save the lives of people who have been ripped open by shotgun fire. But no one would be coming to save Ray Ray, Caleb thought as he stood over him watching him bleed. Ray Ray kept on struggling, his eyes still darting about in his head, as he gagged, choked, and puked up the bloody, meaty insides of his stomach. And Blue was still there, the mess rolling over his hand and arm. "You ain't gonna fucking die. You hear me!" But Ray Ray was dying, and Caleb knew that. Still, Ray was trying to fight his injury, as if he thought he could control the amount of blood he lost. But he couldn't, because it was flowing out of the huge wound in his chest now, saturating his shirt, the dark jelly syrup-looking stain getting bigger and bigger, like a pancake just poured onto a hot skillet. "We gonna get you out of here. You hear me? You hear me!" Blue shouted, seeming frightened that Ray didn't hear him, might have died since his eyes had fallen closed. Then Blue grabbed Ray Ray's cheeks, shaking him, inadvertently forcing a huge quantity of blood and vomit out of his mouth. Ray Ray's eyes opened slowly, but they opened. And he smiled, a sick, helpless, sad smile, as if he was hearing what Blue was telling him, and trying to believe him, but couldn't. Then tears welled up in his eyes and started to fall, and at that moment, Caleb knew that Ray Ray realized that he was going to die, that everything was clear to him now, and he was more frightened than he had ever been in his life. Blue must have sensed that Ray Ray had come to that realization, because Blue crawled up under him more, took him securely in his arms, and rocked him a little harder. He spoke just a little louder, but not just so Ray Ray could hear him over the chaos that had to be going on in his head. He was also speaking louder to drown out the sirens that suddenly seemed to be coming from everywhere, and because he knew Caleb would say they needed to run. "Blue," Caleb said softly, but forcefully. "We ain't fucking leaving him!" Blue yelled, rocking Ray Ray more, like a mother rocking her slain child. "We gotta go! The pigs are gonna be here any minute. We can't stay." "We can't leave him!" Blue said, and tears were running down his shiny black face now. "That ain't right!" Caleb spun in a nervous, frustrated circle, expecting the cops to burst in through the windows and doors any minute, waving guns, shouting for everyone to get on the floor. There was nothing they could do but get the hell out of there. "Blue, he's going to die, if he ain't dead already. Now get the fuck up!" Caleb grabbed Blue under the armpits and pulled him from under Ray Ray. Blue was weak, damn near dead weight, as Caleb dragged him toward the door. The sirens were loud and all over the place now, so much that Caleb didn't know from which direction they were coming. They needed to get out of there, Caleb kept telling himself, but something made him stop. Blue was hanging from Caleb, his arm slung over his neck like a beaten prisoner of war, but suddenly Caleb felt the need to stop and take a final look at Ray Ray. When he did, he wished he'd hadn't, because Ray Ray was staring back at him, his face smeared with blood, blood running from his slightly opened mouth, one arm outstretched, his palm open, as if he was reaching to be carried out of there. And his eyes -- opened wide and unmoving -- were staring at Caleb, and Caleb was frozen. They held him there while they burned the entire image in Caleb's brain, for him never to forget. Caleb didn't know if Ray Ray was alive or dead at that moment, for he didn't move at all. But just when Caleb was about to turn, he saw the corners of Ray Ray's mouth slowly turn up, as if he was smiling, his hand reaching out a little more, the fingers flinching, as if trying to extend all the way over to Caleb and Blue, grab on so he would not be left to die alone. At least, that was what Caleb thought he saw. The screaming sirens wailing louder and louder forced him out, Blue's weakened body still hung over his shoulder, before he had a chance to know if his eyes were telling him the truth or not. Caleb roused himself from his thoughts, shaking away the awful event that had landed him in the dreadful place he was now finally outside of. He stood there, his hair long, wild, and mussed about his head, patches of facial hair growing dense in some spots and thin in others. His body was lean and muscular, from the little bit of fat he'd lost while eating prison food, and the muscle he'd gained by pumping iron in the yard. He stood as if just coming out of a trance, outside the gate of Joliet, Illinois, State Prison, a massive, menacing, gray structure that sat on a huge compound, a twenty-foot-tall barbed-wired gate sprouting from the ground and stretching around the entire area. Two huge guards, their chests and biceps bursting out of blue-and-gray security uniforms, stood on the opposite side of the gate. They had just released Caleb, and they were staring at him now, probably wondering why he hadn't moved, wondering why, after spending five years within that gate, he wasn't turning tail and running as fast as he could from the place. But Caleb didn't care what they thought. They couldn't do anything to him now. He was a free man, and his actions were his own, his time was his own, and he could make his own decisions, and what better time than that moment, he thought, for him to start. Beside him stood another man. A slight, boyish-looking man, of about twenty or twenty-one, with narrow shoulders, who constantly had a look of fear on his face. Even now, it was there, as if he worried that someone would reach out from between the narrow slit in the gate and grab the collar of his T-shirt, and haul him back in. "So what are you going to do now?" the boy-man said, as if he himself had nowhere to go and nothing to do, which was probably the case. He had no more in his hand than what Caleb had, which was a wrinkled paper bag that held a stack of letters, not much more than he had been thrown in the place with. "Got a plane ticket. Going home to see my father, my girl, and my son in California." A look of envy was on the young man's face, but he smiled anyway, obviously trying to deny the emotion. "That's good, that's good," he said, looking down at the pavement, nudging a crumpled can with the tip of his shoe. "You gonna do that right now?" "No," Caleb said, staring at the guards standing behind the gate, watching him through their mirrored sunglasses. "Well, what you gonna do right now?" Caleb turned to glance at the man, then looked away again. "I'm just going to stand here for a while, so you might as well go on home." Where home was for this man, Caleb didn't know, and he didn't much care, because he had too many problems of his own to concern himself with. He had too many demons to rid himself of before he took another step out into the world. Caleb drifted back into his thoughts, the same thoughts that had plagued him since the day Ray Ray had gotten killed. He had left Ray Ray there to die by himself. They should have taken him with them. Even though they were caught in the end, they shouldn't have abandoned Ray Ray, thrown him aside like some worthless piece of shit. It horrified Caleb to think of the police finding Ray Ray, walking around his body, glaring down at it, like a dead animal smashed and bloody in the center of the highway, thinking to themselves, or even saying it, "Well, just another nigger dead, eh?" And then one of his buddies agreeing with him. "That's right. Makes our job all the more easier." Then another image popped into Caleb's head. Although he knew it was impossible, he could not shake the image of Ray Ray's parents walking into that store, maybe stopping to get a can of peas on the way home for that night's dinner, and seeing their son slain, coated with dried blood, his eyes eerily open in his head. Caleb could see Ray Ray's mother, blinking furiously, then shaking her head, trying to get that foolish make-believe image out of her mind, but when it would not go, she ran to Ray Ray. She ran to her son and dropped to her knees, burying her face in his chest, grabbing fistfuls of his torn, bloodied shirt, shaking him, beating his dead body, tears spilling onto her son. She was scolding him for putting himself in the position to get shot, because she had told him a thousand times not to go hanging around with "those boys," because they would get him killed one day. And there he was, dead, on that floor. Dead before his mother could even say good-bye to him, before she could tell him how much she loved him, and all she wanted to do was die right there with him. And it was apparent by the way she raised her anguished, now blood-covered face and hands up to the heavens, and yelled out to God, "Please spare my boy! Pleeeaaasssse!" But nothing had happened, and she collapsed onto his dead, stiffening body. And then there was her husband's hand, Ray Ray's father's hand, big on her shoulder, and he was looking down on his son's dead body, no expression on his face, but somehow seeming more torn apart than his wife. Caleb shook the image out of his head, looked around to find himself alone now. The man beside him was gone, the guards who had walked him out, gone, obviously tired of staring at him, and the sun that was above him had now lowered itself into hiding, taking the daylight with it. How long had Caleb been out there? It could have been hours, for he had no watch on his wrist to tell him. He pulled an envelope from his pocket and slipped its contents out. It was a plane ticket in his name. A ticket to California to see Sonya and his child. It had been five years that he'd been away from them, five years since he'd held them in his arms, and, on a few occasions, he feared he never would again. He thought many times about the day he would receive the letter telling him that the distance was just too much for her. That he couldn't go on expecting her to wait for him like that, and that it was cruel to put her in that position. But that letter never came, and now he was out. In just a couple of days, they would all be reunited. He took a step in the direction of the bus station that would carry him on to the rest of his life. Then he halted, thinking once again about Ray Ray, and turned back around, slowly walking down the street in the opposite direction. Excerpted from The Harris Family by R. M. Johnson. Copyright © 2001 by R. Marcus Johnson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.