T. Geronimo Johnson's Hold It 'Til It Hurts is a dazzling first novel about the power of pain and the strength of love. Fresh from the war in "Goddamnistan," having returned safely home with his younger brother, Achilles Conroy has every reason to expect the hero's welcome that awaited him. His father dies unexpectedly in a car crash, and after the funeral his white adoptive mother gives her sons envelopes containing the names of their birth parents. To use — or to ignore — this information?
After Achilles' brother Troy takes off, brother chases brother through the modern cities of the South. Achilles touches down in New Orleans, stays with a fellow veteran and explores Treme, searching for his brother. He visits St. Augustine Church, seeks out homeless shelters, falls in love with a complicated woman, Ines, whose collective seeks to alleviate the social ills everywhere in pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.
Then it's off to Atlanta to bunk with another returned veteran, chasing down another lead in yet another treacherous neighborhood. Then Katrina hits, and Achilles' is drawn back to a vastly altered New Orleans.
"Doesn't take blood to be brothers," Achilles' father says.
Johnson conjures those bonds of brotherhood and all their joy and pain. What makes up a family? What defines our identities? What bonds are forged in war and in love? This novel raises — and answers — big questions, even as it maps the tough lives of men in cities under harrowing stress. Is Achilles a survivor or a ghost? And then, what and who are we?