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Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life unmatched in power and immediacy and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close to our own, the stories in Jesus' Son of Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life unmatched in power and immediacy and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close to our own, the stories in Jesus' Son offer a disturbing yet eerily beautiful portrayal of American loneliness and hope. Contains: Car Crash While Hitchhiking Two Men Out on Bail Dundun Work Emergency Dirty Wedding The Other Man Happy Hour Steady Hands at Seattle General Beverly Home'


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Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life unmatched in power and immediacy and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close to our own, the stories in Jesus' Son of Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life unmatched in power and immediacy and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close to our own, the stories in Jesus' Son offer a disturbing yet eerily beautiful portrayal of American loneliness and hope. Contains: Car Crash While Hitchhiking Two Men Out on Bail Dundun Work Emergency Dirty Wedding The Other Man Happy Hour Steady Hands at Seattle General Beverly Home'

30 review for Jesus' Son

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    I once fell in love with a man just because he recommended this book to me. He had a glass eye and fingernails with with half moons of crust lodged underneath, thick and dark as coffee grounds. He was living covertly and temporarily for about four years in one of those storage units out by the interstate, and I would sometimes go see him when I wanted to get high or feel better about my life. At some point he died when they blew up a bridge to build a dam, and he happened to be sleeping undernea I once fell in love with a man just because he recommended this book to me. He had a glass eye and fingernails with with half moons of crust lodged underneath, thick and dark as coffee grounds. He was living covertly and temporarily for about four years in one of those storage units out by the interstate, and I would sometimes go see him when I wanted to get high or feel better about my life. At some point he died when they blew up a bridge to build a dam, and he happened to be sleeping underneath it. Or maybe that was someone else. Maybe it was some kids from the high school found him sleeping under the bridge. It was late and they were drunk and had just lifted a stop sign off the road and, proud of it, they thought they might try to break it over his head. In any event, he died of some head trauma of the most religious sort, that much I know.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Kelsey

    "I could understand how a drowning man might suddenly feel a deep thirst being quenched." Magnificent, concise writing. A calm sort of sad, and strangely relaxing. Stories about people living in the corners of society. It’s like I’m sitting on the porch of a shack in the middle of nowhere, listening to the saddest old man I know tell me misremembered stories about how shitty he was when he was young. It all feels extremely real, like lives that were lived. The stories are connected, and all share a "I could understand how a drowning man might suddenly feel a deep thirst being quenched." Magnificent, concise writing. A calm sort of sad, and strangely relaxing. Stories about people living in the corners of society. It’s like I’m sitting on the porch of a shack in the middle of nowhere, listening to the saddest old man I know tell me misremembered stories about how shitty he was when he was young. It all feels extremely real, like lives that were lived. The stories are connected, and all share a protagonist. It's an ethereal novella of sorts, each story like a chunk of truth torn from reality, with otherwise fiction filling in the cracks.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    A poetic, disorienting book of short fiction about semi-criminals, heroin addicts and idlers squandering their lives on the fringes of urban northern Idaho. The narrator is a study in contrasts: irresponsible, irrational . . . and yet gifted with moments of almost mystical clarity.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Posted at Shelf Inflicted I wasn’t sure if I would like this collection of loosely connected stories about a young guy who is addicted to drugs, sometimes homeless, sometimes employed, and occasionally steals. He’s not an especially likable character, but I enjoyed being a part of his thoughts, his views, and his haphazard journey through life. Maybe it's because I have empathy for addicts and others who live on the edge. This powerful and gripping collection of stories was troubling, intense, an Posted at Shelf Inflicted I wasn’t sure if I would like this collection of loosely connected stories about a young guy who is addicted to drugs, sometimes homeless, sometimes employed, and occasionally steals. He’s not an especially likable character, but I enjoyed being a part of his thoughts, his views, and his haphazard journey through life. Maybe it's because I have empathy for addicts and others who live on the edge. This powerful and gripping collection of stories was troubling, intense, and humane. I was overwhelmed by its beautiful language and poignant passages. One of my favorite stories in this collection is Dirty Wedding, a sad and unsettling little story about abortion, loneliness, heroin addiction, and death. “The wheels screamed, and all I saw suddenly was everybody’s big ugly shoes. The sound stopped. We passed solitary, wrenching scenes. Through the neighborhoods and past the platforms, I felt the cancelled life dreaming after me. Yes, a ghost. A vestige. Something remaining.” Beverly Home was sad, a little humorous, and very hopeful. The young narrator finds a part-time job in a nursing home, spies on a Mennonite couple in their bedroom, and begins a life of sobriety. “All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.”

  5. 4 out of 5

    J. Kent Messum

    *I'm heartbroken to hear of Denis Johnson's recent passing. The man was a personal hero and great literary influence of mine. I'm floating this review of his quintessential masterpiece as a tip of the hat to an exceptional author who brought us some of the finest prose. Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite works of all time. Denis Johnson is a major influence of mine, and Jesus' Son had a profound effect on me. This was the book that showed me how far you could stretch your prose and stil *I'm heartbroken to hear of Denis Johnson's recent passing. The man was a personal hero and great literary influence of mine. I'm floating this review of his quintessential masterpiece as a tip of the hat to an exceptional author who brought us some of the finest prose. Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite works of all time. Denis Johnson is a major influence of mine, and Jesus' Son had a profound effect on me. This was the book that showed me how far you could stretch your prose and still have it sound dynamite. A drug-addled mix of loosely interconnected stories, reading it is like navigating a string of dreams, both blissful and bad. The spectrum of themes is considerably wide, and the narrative draws you into worlds where you can feel as uncomfortable and out of place as the characters themselves. This is a book that actually makes you feel 'high' in some spots. The shifting line between chemical-fueled fantasy and uneasy reality isn't just blurred, it's burned down to almost nothing. Jesus' Son features everyday kind of people who have slipped down notch or two into the gutter and lost their grip on normality. Much of the time they have nothing to do, nothing to be, and little to live for. It's bleak and beautiful at the same time, a trip through the entangled emotions of folks living simple lives complicated by poor choices. Everything from love and loss to happiness and sheer horror is covered in this book. One moment the writing is slick as oil, the next it is jagged as broken glass. It’s downright chaotic in places where the mental states of the storytellers are in question. You know the main characters in this book are all unreliable narrators, but you still believe every word they say, because the stories Johnson tells are just that convincing. He's a master writer, balancing poetic passages with crisp, visual prose. This book is nothing short of a masterpiece. If you haven't read it yet, read is ASAP. *This book was one of my selections for my '5 Books That Made Me A Better Writer' piece. See which others I picked: http://jkentmessum.com/the-5-books-th... On a side note.... if you have a chance to get the audiobook version, definitely do so. Actor Will Patton narrates the stories, and does an incredible job of bringing Johnson's prose to perfection.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Garima

    I stayed in the library, crushed breathless by the smoldering power of all those words—many of them unfathomable. Sometimes I judge and consequently love a book based upon the following points: - A single, beautiful line I longed to read or hear in the words of some person other than me. - A completely related character. - A completely unrelated character. - The way it makes me laugh. - The way it makes me cry. - The way it makes me feel extremely good about the life I’m leading. - The way it makes me I stayed in the library, crushed breathless by the smoldering power of all those words—many of them unfathomable. Sometimes I judge and consequently love a book based upon the following points: - A single, beautiful line I longed to read or hear in the words of some person other than me. - A completely related character. - A completely unrelated character. - The way it makes me laugh. - The way it makes me cry. - The way it makes me feel extremely good about the life I’m leading. - The way it makes me feel rich. (metaphor intended) - The way it makes me feel poor. (----ditto-----) - When a life is described without much fuss and the death is described without much glory. - When love is described without much purity and hate is described with a remarkable honesty. - When a few pages are enough to savor the taste of several slices of fucked up lives. - When few pages are actually not enough. - When a writer writes as if it’s the easiest and the most difficult thing to do at the same time. - When it’s so easy to love a book. Jesus’ Son met most of the aforementioned criteria and deserved a much better review but I hope you all got my point that I really enjoyed this book. A few hours reading, 11 really short stories basking in the glow of their respective singularities, some connections were made, some were left in isolation but all in all, a book worthy of my time and literary love. No more pretending for him! He was completely and openly a mess. Meanwhile the rest of us go on trying to fool each other.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ΞιsNιnΞ

    Junk-sick, Broke and Completely Alone, in a Land of Bad Intentions I've gone through three copies of ‘Jesus’ Son’, reading it like a prayer-book, though it’s nothing of the kind. There's a sadness living in every sentence, and it doesn't really have any suggestions for better living, beyond a painfully obvious cautionary tale. Heroin=bad. The cautionary tale, however, is one interpreted by the reader. It's the best kind of dangerous, like a manual for poetic self-immolation, on burning yourse Junk-sick, Broke and Completely Alone, in a Land of Bad Intentions I've gone through three copies of ‘Jesus’ Son’, reading it like a prayer-book, though it’s nothing of the kind. There's a sadness living in every sentence, and it doesn't really have any suggestions for better living, beyond a painfully obvious cautionary tale. Heroin=bad. The cautionary tale, however, is one interpreted by the reader. It's the best kind of dangerous, like a manual for poetic self-immolation, on burning yourself down to the foundation-stones and finding one beautiful thing in the ashes. Even if it's something cheap and common, it assumes a spiritual density simply by escaping the flames, and a malleability that allows it to be shaped and worked into something vaguely redemptive. The power of Denis Johnson's prose is inestimable, with sentences & imagery that will orbit the readers consciousness for decades. It's that kind of book: one that moves into your head and makes itself comfortable. His writing has the hard-eyed toughness of Chandler, but with a kind of unabashed sensitivity that Chandler would never expose... imagine Dashiell Hammett writing poetry, and imagine yourself liking it. It's Bogart in drag, or a concert pianist with the broken hands of a boxer. “And therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person’s life on this earth. I don’t mean that we all end up dead, that’s not the great pity. I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.” See? That sort of thing. In case you're not familiar with The Velvet Underground, the title comes from one of Lou Reed's lines in 'Heroin'. Denis Johnson’s skills as a short story writer, poet, and novelist all coalesced with ‘Jesus’ Son’, to produce a sad, funny and frightening little masterpiece. It’s not really even a novella; more of a collection of short stories that add up to something related to a novella. Loosely inspired by Johnson's own experiences, the main character – Fuckhead - introduces himself with a story of hitch-hiking in the rain. He’s feeling burnt out and edgy after taking mystery pills from a travelling salesman... never a good idea, but his name is Fuckhead. He doesn’t do anything the right way. When a family is nice enough to stop and let a drenched stranger into their car, he knows that it's going to end in tragedy, but he gets in anyway...'They said they'd take me all the way.' Fuckhead's wanderings through the USA of the 1970's are always told from the anamorphic perspectives of a compromised mind, pleasantly poisoned with all manner of chemical. Junkies finding love in motel rooms. Drug-dealers half-heartedly murdering each other in a Midwestern farmhouse. A hospital clerk and orderly way too high for anything that comes through the Emergency Room doors. Rehab. Johnson presents skewed characters and situations that seem to operate according to the inscrutable mechanisms of dream and nightmare. Like Dundun, for instance, about whom I can say little. The narrator can say a few words, though, because narrators do that shit. It's their thing: “Will you believe me when I tell you there was kindness in his heart? His left hand didn't know what his right hand was doing. It was only that certain important connections had been burned through. If I opened up your head and ran a hot soldering iron around in your brain, I might turn you into someone like that.” Yeah, that's Dundun. That's also perfect casting. Alison Maclean's adaptation of 'Jesus' Son' is one of the best novel-to-film translations I've seen, along with 'No Country For Old Men' and the big screen incarnations of the aforementioned Chandler and Hammett. The performances are thoroughly fucking brilliant, but Michael Shannon's portrayal of Dundun was unforgettable. Other writers could work a decade, write a thousand pages, and not create a fraction of the intensity and emotional dissonance that Johnson scribbles into being. And his characters... they crawl off the paper and bury themselves in the soft grey folds of your brain, like memories that you've bought and paid for by living them. Jesus, that sounds absolutely fucking horrid... but it’s actually a good thing. You can trust me... I'm not a doctor OR a politician “Talk into my bullet hole. Tell me I'm fine.” ― Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    I kind of sort of liked this woozy teensy bouquet of junkie memories but it was just too oh what’s the word even though the very sky above me was heavy with the five stars sluiced over this book by all previous readers in all the seven realms of readerdom. I got a mean and unworthy thought – that you could take sentences from almost anywhere in any of these stories and put them next to other randomly selected sentences and they would make as much sense, so I took something from page 20, 40, 80, I kind of sort of liked this woozy teensy bouquet of junkie memories but it was just too oh what’s the word even though the very sky above me was heavy with the five stars sluiced over this book by all previous readers in all the seven realms of readerdom. I got a mean and unworthy thought – that you could take sentences from almost anywhere in any of these stories and put them next to other randomly selected sentences and they would make as much sense, so I took something from page 20, 40, 80, 100 and 120 and proved it as follows: In the room behind her the man we’d brought stood like a bad sculpture, posing unnaturally, with his shoulders wilting, as if he couldn’t lug his gigantic hands any further. He had a bad case of hepatitis that often gave him a lot of pain. “Do you want the police?” He thought about it and finally said “Not unless I die.” I turned away because my throat was closing up. And then I left. The motor traffic was relentless, the sidewalks were crowded, the people preoccupied and mean because Happy Hour was also Rush Hour. My bus went by, bus 24 – it didn’t even slow down It goes on like this and then it stops. Often a random person dies or maybe somebody doesn't die. There are large vague profound statements every so often. Reading this one felt like I was a first responder continually shouting in the author’s face “What is your name? What have you taken? Do you live here? Is there anyone I can call?”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Denis Johnson took the fringe sensibilities of The Beats, added his own raw poetic touches, nicked a line from Lou Reed for the title, and ended up with an intensely unsettling collection of stories that prefigured to a T the drug classic Trainspotting. You may wonder at first if the unnamed narrator of these accounts could really be such an uncaring cad. Well, as a bottom line, maybe so. But the thoughts of murder, the thieving, and the ultra-callous disregard for fellow man were in large part Denis Johnson took the fringe sensibilities of The Beats, added his own raw poetic touches, nicked a line from Lou Reed for the title, and ended up with an intensely unsettling collection of stories that prefigured to a T the drug classic Trainspotting. You may wonder at first if the unnamed narrator of these accounts could really be such an uncaring cad. Well, as a bottom line, maybe so. But the thoughts of murder, the thieving, and the ultra-callous disregard for fellow man were in large part a function of the skag, the booze, and the stolen pharmaceuticals. This does not excuse the insensitivity and messed up behavior so much as it explains the eeriness, fragmentation, and reflexive anger. But amidst the distortions, bits of clarity stand out. And in contrast to the alienation in dull shades of gray, a kindness of any tint will catch the eye. Has it ever been proposed as an exercise in creative writing to imagine being (if not actually being) high as a kite? What am I saying? Of course it has. And abstract, luminous words have come from such otherworldly mindsets, I’m sure. In fact, I would argue that this short book set in the psychedelic 70’s is a prime case in point. It figures, with Johnson also being a poet, that the writing would be taut and expressive. He captures the sentiments of the down-and-out so well, too. For example, he describes how the “tears of false fellowship dripped on the bar” and how a gunshot victim should be happy he’s getting “Haldol pumped by the quart.” The drug scene is the backdrop, but the fallout is the real focus. ” I'd been staying at the Holiday Inn with my with my girlfriend, honestly the most beautiful woman I'd ever known, for three days under a phony name, shooting heroin. We made love in the bed, ate steaks in the restaurant, shot up in the john, puked, cried, accused one another, begged of one another, forgave, promised, and carried one another to heaven.” My favorite parts were when little hints of what it means to be human snuck into the stories. It didn’t always put the narrator in a favorable light, but usually pointed to something redeemable within him. He appreciated co-worker and co-addict Georgie for telling a friend of a friend who was seriously AWOL that he’d help get him to Canada. Georgie also wanted to save the baby rabbits of the mother he ran over with his car. Another story described the narrator’s best day ever, one where he and a friend made $28 each from honest labors stripping copper wire out of the friend’s abandoned house and then celebrating with their favorite bartender pouring them double shots but charging them only for singles. The last story was set at Beverly Home, a place for senile, disabled, and disfigured adults where the narrator was given a part-time job as the newsletter writer and a point of human contact for those rarely touched. He was off drugs and sober at this point, and regaining his health. His straight and narrow path was still a little skewed, though, when he discovered a Mennonite woman who happened to time her shower every day as he passed by her place after work. As immoral as his actions were, though, there was a sense that he’d turned the corner (view spoiler)[I was going to say he turned the corner to find an odd looking guy with a long beard but no mustache about to aim a shotgun his way, but I’d be taking too much literary license saying that. It never happened. (hide spoiler)] A book like this is an eye-opener. It’s a hard look at addiction, it’s an artistic peek at altered perceptions, and it’s a clever way to highlight humanity when set against the stuporous default settings. Oh, and since it matters, the writing was really good, too.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Fabian

    Excellent prose & a roaming plot to boot. These short stories together describe the grit inherent in modern America. We meet drunks & druggies, victims of crime and a vicious environment. America is rarely portrayed like this-- with so much beauty & ugliness combined. Books like these make me feel bad for hating on The Poets. This is poetic &, despite its brevity, confoundingly major. You want to read more of the narrator's misadventures: it is as addictive to the voracious reader as the drugs a Excellent prose & a roaming plot to boot. These short stories together describe the grit inherent in modern America. We meet drunks & druggies, victims of crime and a vicious environment. America is rarely portrayed like this-- with so much beauty & ugliness combined. Books like these make me feel bad for hating on The Poets. This is poetic &, despite its brevity, confoundingly major. You want to read more of the narrator's misadventures: it is as addictive to the voracious reader as the drugs and the booze.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.” ― Denis Johnson, 'Jesus' Son' Sometimes while reading this I thought I was reading Burroughs (just not so dark), other times J.G. Ballard (just not so cold), sometimes even Palahniuk (but with more of a poet's heart). It was madness, a fever dream, tied together with beauty. It was fragments of insanity s “All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.” ― Denis Johnson, 'Jesus' Son' Sometimes while reading this I thought I was reading Burroughs (just not so dark), other times J.G. Ballard (just not so cold), sometimes even Palahniuk (but with more of a poet's heart). It was madness, a fever dream, tied together with beauty. It was fragments of insanity stitched together with the stars. And sometimes the night of this novel was so dark, I couldn't see the stars, and the blood all looked black. I didn't personally like it as much as Train Dreams, but that was just personal preference. I can see how some readers would absolutely adore it. It felt like a painting of blood or a beautiful photograph of a corpse. You are both attracted to and repelled by the art and the vision.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    "I'd been staying at the holiday Inn with my girl- friend, honestly the most beautiful woman I'd ever known, for three days under a phoney name, shooting heroin. We made love in the bed, ate steaks at the restaurant, shot up in the john, puked, cried, accused one another, begged one another, forgave, promised, and carried one an- other to heaven." Read a couple of Johnson's novels in the past and thought they were good but not great. These short-stories however were the real deal, and most of them total "I'd been staying at the holiday Inn with my girl- friend, honestly the most beautiful woman I'd ever known, for three days under a phoney name, shooting heroin. We made love in the bed, ate steaks at the restaurant, shot up in the john, puked, cried, accused one another, begged one another, forgave, promised, and carried one an- other to heaven." Read a couple of Johnson's novels in the past and thought they were good but not great. These short-stories however were the real deal, and most of them totally blew me away. I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that Jesus' Son, in regards to contemporary American short fiction, is up there with the best of Carver, Salinger, Yates and Cheever, to name a few. The biggest difference here though is junkies. These highly additive tales are as masterly controlled as their muzzy-headed characters are chaotic. Johnson's world in governed by addiction, malevolence, faith and uncertainty. It is a place where attempts at salvation remain radically provisional, and where a teetering narrative architecture uncannily expresses both Christlike and pathological traits of mind. The narrative voices within come from down low, but like an assemblance of lostprophets, there is an undercurrent of religiousness about them. If the first story about a hitchhiking addict and a car crash was anything to go by, then I knew I'd likely end up with these burned into my memory; and I was right.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Look, I don't know how else to put this. I recognize what Johnson's accomplished here, I acknowledge that he has a gift for phrase-level shine, and I concede that these semi-linked stories evince a remarkably coherent and vividly-depicted worldview that I might call "hopelessly optimistic," or maybe "tending to carry on when there's clearly no good reason to do so," or else, more succinctly, "Conradian" . . . but, I'm sorry, what I couldn't help but think/feel, wading through one after another o Look, I don't know how else to put this. I recognize what Johnson's accomplished here, I acknowledge that he has a gift for phrase-level shine, and I concede that these semi-linked stories evince a remarkably coherent and vividly-depicted worldview that I might call "hopelessly optimistic," or maybe "tending to carry on when there's clearly no good reason to do so," or else, more succinctly, "Conradian" . . . but, I'm sorry, what I couldn't help but think/feel, wading through one after another of these stories was, Yeah, I know: I understand that the human elevator has no bottom floor, that a man can keep on falling til he's ready to pull the emergency brake and haul himself out onto some sublevel way below the bright clean fenestrated floors traversed by shiny people too stupid and lucky (so far) to know how shaky their footing is, how frightened they ought to be, and that the fallen subterraneans tend never to make it all the way back up to the light, but that this doesn't prevent them (us) from continuing to wriggle around through murky sub-basement muck, and that this perverse expression of the irrepressible will to move and breathe, to go on, no matter how shitty the environs or rancid the air, is what makes the condition of being human so simultaneously stupid and beautiful – sure, I get this, but it's something I feel like I'd already got, i.e., I didn't need Denis Johnson to tell me, and if I did need to be informed that this is the way things are, I'm not at all convinced this book would have done it for me. Sorry. Hope this doesn't get me kicked out of the writing program; I gather most of my fellows here sort of revere the man. As I say: he can clearly write. Let the angry response-posts commence.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brent Legault

    This book ruined my reading bone for a long time. I wanted every story I read, every story by every other author, to be just like the stories in Jesus' Son. But of course they weren't and aren't and they stand alone in my mind, even now. Perhaps it's the whiskey talking, but I'd go so far as to call this little book one of the greatest of my generation. Not that such superlatives carry any weight anymore. I just can't get over this book. It was my first true love.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    To find Rick Bass's words of praise in the opening pages, speaking about this great 50,000-volt kick thrill of a book, I knew that this would be just the thing to cure my reading inertia. I'd followed a Carson McCullers novel like a dream into the rabbit hole, shrunk and dreamed until This One woke me like a cruel Queen. Consider me awake. Not unlike characters from the early works of McCarthy, the faces that come in and out of focus in Denis Johnson's fictional world are victims of their own mi To find Rick Bass's words of praise in the opening pages, speaking about this great 50,000-volt kick thrill of a book, I knew that this would be just the thing to cure my reading inertia. I'd followed a Carson McCullers novel like a dream into the rabbit hole, shrunk and dreamed until This One woke me like a cruel Queen. Consider me awake. Not unlike characters from the early works of McCarthy, the faces that come in and out of focus in Denis Johnson's fictional world are victims of their own misfortune, unravelling fast, doing sad and cruel things and all the while saying & thinking beautiful and stupid things. The central character / Narrator wanders stoned, drunk, high & wretched into the most sublime heart-territory. When he's not prophetic he's outlandishly funny. The book is necessarily short at 133 pages, any longer and I might consider its beauty gratuitous. Lastly, I can't help but feel that the author sneaks in messages to his readers: "It was raining. Gigantic ferns leaned over us. The forest drifted down a hill. I could hear a creek rushing down among rocks. And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you. * "Talk into my bullet hole. Tell me I'm fine".

  16. 4 out of 5

    rahul

    Is there a way of writing the right stories about the right people,telling everything neatly from start to finish. An Uppercase letter starting the story and a full stop waiting at the end. A boy meeting girl on the first page and walking away with her in the last one. Or are stories like these...snapshots of nightmares which some would call hell, but is home to some. Where beautiful sentences strike you out of the blue, so beautiful that you read them again and again, flashes of lightning in a d Is there a way of writing the right stories about the right people,telling everything neatly from start to finish. An Uppercase letter starting the story and a full stop waiting at the end. A boy meeting girl on the first page and walking away with her in the last one. Or are stories like these...snapshots of nightmares which some would call hell, but is home to some. Where beautiful sentences strike you out of the blue, so beautiful that you read them again and again, flashes of lightning in a desolate sky. A sky that won't shed tears for us anymore. And if it did, I knew every raindrop by its name. Raindrops that cannot purify our soul. Our soul that is a ghost beyond redemption running hopeless to find love. Love that was never ours in first place. With each step my heart broke for the person I would never find, the person who'd love me. So, what if you are loved. And the night, oh the night when the wind full of outer space gnaws at our faces; that wished for, gentle, deceptive one waiting painfully for the lonely heart - she'd stay on for anyone. Is she easier on lovers? Ah,but they only use each other to hide what awaits them. -Rilke

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kelly (and the Book Boar)

    Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ And when it comes to fiction a bigly chunk of “my” people are drug addicts . . . . Jesus’ Son has been on my TBR for an age due to the fact that it is considered a modern classic and has appeared on list after list of must reads that I can’t ever stop myself from looking at, despite having 11,000,000,000,000 books already waiting for me to get to them. I can’t guarantee everyone will love this one – due to the aforementioned dr Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ And when it comes to fiction a bigly chunk of “my” people are drug addicts . . . . Jesus’ Son has been on my TBR for an age due to the fact that it is considered a modern classic and has appeared on list after list of must reads that I can’t ever stop myself from looking at, despite having 11,000,000,000,000 books already waiting for me to get to them. I can’t guarantee everyone will love this one – due to the aforementioned drug addict narrator along with a supporting cast of the same ilk – not to mention the fact that a lot of these shorts are real Debbie Downers. Buuuuuuuuuuut, the writing is pretty brilliant and my library copy literally fit in the palm of my hand (it is a miracle I did not lose it – I did, however, receive a past due notice because it’s so small I forgot I stuck it in my car console for safekeeping), so it’s not like it’s going to take much of your time. Go read J. Kent Messum’s review review for more details. He’s a writer by trade so he actually uses words rather than pictures to get his point across and he also talks about the audio, which is apparently read by the best reader of all time . . . .

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Last Exit to Brooklyn in the boonies is what Jesus' Son feels like. It's an interconnected series of short stories starring the very down and very out in rural Iowa as they stagger through young adulthood. Its protagonist's name is Fuckhead, so there you go. There's this great confused quality that's familiar to me from my own experimental days, which were much less dire (not at all dire) but, like, in one story they're all having a sendoff party for a friend who's going to jail, and midway throu Last Exit to Brooklyn in the boonies is what Jesus' Son feels like. It's an interconnected series of short stories starring the very down and very out in rural Iowa as they stagger through young adulthood. Its protagonist's name is Fuckhead, so there you go. There's this great confused quality that's familiar to me from my own experimental days, which were much less dire (not at all dire) but, like, in one story they're all having a sendoff party for a friend who's going to jail, and midway through Fuckhead realizes that he has this all wrong, it's actually a welcome home party for the friend who's just gotten out of jail, so the entire story changes on a dime: "Oh shit, wait, that's not what's happening." I remember that sort of thing! Except it was more along the lines of whether we'd eaten all the gummy bears yet or not, so the stakes were a little lower. I like this better than Last Exit. I like both, but Jesus' Son avoids Last Exit's desperate shock tactics; my problem with that book was that every story basically ended, like, "and then everyone got raped," and it felt a little obvious. Plus I like that "Jesus' Son" is from the Velvet Underground song "Heroin." The thing with Fuckhead is that he has no self-esteem at all. He feels no shame when he peeps in some lady's window, because he has no shame left. He's made it down to raw animal level. I feel catharsis when I read characters like this, if they're well-done, as he is. I've dipped a toe or two into low self-esteem, at moments in my life. I don't think about it real often, because those were bummer moments. It's nice to understand that others know what it's like way down there where you can't see in front of your face. You don't read stuff like this too much. Cormac McCarthy's Child of God, maybe - Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays. But you don't see it often, because it's dark down there. Paradoxically, so, this book feels like a little light.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    This collection of stories is really short, but don’t let that fool you. Each word releases so much power that an hour spent reading Jesus’ Son carries the same impact as two hours of reading another book. Johnson throws off images like dazzling pieces of shrapnel, and for me, those gorgeous passages are what held the book together more than any actual plot. The narrator is a junkie with a life so chaotic that you always have the feeling anything could happen at any second. He might see an angel, This collection of stories is really short, but don’t let that fool you. Each word releases so much power that an hour spent reading Jesus’ Son carries the same impact as two hours of reading another book. Johnson throws off images like dazzling pieces of shrapnel, and for me, those gorgeous passages are what held the book together more than any actual plot. The narrator is a junkie with a life so chaotic that you always have the feeling anything could happen at any second. He might see an angel, or he might see a man with a knife buried in his eye. Both occur and both are completely plausible. All that said, I don’t believe Jesus’ Son is 100 percent deserving of its accolades. It’s a beautifully written portrait of particular people living in a particular time and place, but that’s about the extent of what I got from it. I was left wanting more…I don’t know…more to think about maybe.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Wiswell

    I wouldn’t dislike this book so much if professors and literati hadn’t rubbed it in my face so much. Don't get me wrong - it wasn't entertaining, enlightening, intellectually arousing, and it didn't harbor any interesting characters or compelling scenes despite dealing with drugs, physical handicaps and multiple deaths. The narrator was far too pretentious with far too little beautiful writing or insight to pull it off. I was mostly bored or depressed, and occasionally outraged and how poorly wr I wouldn’t dislike this book so much if professors and literati hadn’t rubbed it in my face so much. Don't get me wrong - it wasn't entertaining, enlightening, intellectually arousing, and it didn't harbor any interesting characters or compelling scenes despite dealing with drugs, physical handicaps and multiple deaths. The narrator was far too pretentious with far too little beautiful writing or insight to pull it off. I was mostly bored or depressed, and occasionally outraged and how poorly written sections were, and even handed it to other students just to see if I’d gone insane – only to find they were equally unimpressed. But when you get someone like Yale’s Harold Bloom fondling it like a new-age Bible, I tend to lose it. This is a collection of short stories just tragically hip enough, just sad and bleak enough, just pretentious enough to be cuddled by literary-types. When Johnson isn’t failing on sentence-by-sentence level, he utterly fails to deliver story, compelling characters or satisfactory conclusions. Oh no. That’s below literary fiction, or drug fiction, or whatever this was supposed to be. Instead he strings together a few events, doing his best to steer things to negative conclusions, providing a little optimism and saccharine literary flourishes along the way. You can tell the depth of his fiction from the quote before the stories start, where Johnson reveals he didn’t get the title from the Bible or any of the slews of philosophical prose it spawned, but from “Heroin,” a Velvet Underground song. There is so little even vaguely allegorical or referential to a messiah, holiness, religion, or even a substantive search for greater meaning is a part of this collection that it becomes paintfully obvious Jesus was a sales ploy for the book and you have to make up a reason for the title to fit, or you're dumb. I’m not a Christian. I’m a reader and a thinking person, and both identities were insulted as I tried to delude myself into believing this had the deeper levels of an O’Connor or Kesey book. It didn't.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pedro

    1. Car Crash While Hitchhiking “He couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.” 2. Two Men “It doesn’t matter what his problem is, until he’s fully understood it himself.” 3. Out of Bail “Some of the most terrible things that had happened to me in my life had happened in here. But like the others I kept coming back.” 4. Dundun “For a moment I fell asleep, right while I was driving. I had a dream in which I was trying to tell someone something and they kept interrupting 1. Car Crash While Hitchhiking “He couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.” 2. Two Men “It doesn’t matter what his problem is, until he’s fully understood it himself.” 3. Out of Bail “Some of the most terrible things that had happened to me in my life had happened in here. But like the others I kept coming back.” 4. Dundun “For a moment I fell asleep, right while I was driving. I had a dream in which I was trying to tell someone something and they kept interrupting, a dream about frustration.” 5. Work “Because, after all, in small ways, it was turning out to be one of the best days of my life, whether it was somebody else’s dream or not.” 6. Emergency “I could understand how a drowning man might suddenly feel a deep thirst being quenched. Or how the slave might become a friend to his master.” 7. Dirty Wedding “And if the darkness just got darker? And then you were dead? What would you care? How would you even know the difference? 8. The Other Man “My feet carried me away down the hill. I danced on my despair.” 9. Happy Hour “People entering the bars on First Avenue gave up their bodies. Then only the demons inhabiting us could be seen.” 10. Steady Hands at Seattle General “Well, maybe I mean alive in a deeper sense. You could be talking, and still not be alive in a deeper sense.” 11. Beverly Home “And sometimes a dust storm would stand off in the desert, towering so high it was like another city—a terrifying new era approaching, blurring our dreams.” And as I turned the last page, I had to run outside just to make sure the world was still there. When did it get so dark? I looked at the night sky and, God, did I feel small. The moon and the stars were still up there and a cold wind was blowing. In that moment I could have sworn there was no one left in the world. I felt lonely, and cold. But so happy to be alive.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    Dennis Johnson has a good way to describe things and has placed trouble riddled characters amongst some literal beauty. A collection of stories tied together with a common theme of struggle and drugs. He brings your eyes into the lives of characters on this earth with problems. The few stories I mention are... Car crash while hitchhiking As the title say a powerful descriptive story where a hitchhiker is involved in an accident with a family including a baby. Visceral and shows very well all that Dennis Johnson has a good way to describe things and has placed trouble riddled characters amongst some literal beauty. A collection of stories tied together with a common theme of struggle and drugs. He brings your eyes into the lives of characters on this earth with problems. The few stories I mention are... Car crash while hitchhiking As the title say a powerful descriptive story where a hitchhiker is involved in an accident with a family including a baby. Visceral and shows very well all that the character experiences. Out on bail A friend is out of bail on an armed robbery charge. They drift around town locate a usual drink place and talk. Time passes places is gone they drift more into heroine and stealing they live a dangerous life one of them the two friends doesn't make it through life safely. Good tight story. Dundun You cant help thinking the narrator is a sociopath. He mentions possibly he doesn't know what he does and may still have heart due to him not knowing what his left hand to his right hand is doing. Your given a glimpse again of some drug users and violent characters, with death also contain within. Emergency Story of two hospital workers, a nurse and a orderly. They steal drugs from the hospital they work at and get high frequently. While off duty they go for a wild ride, they stop at a fun fair, they knock down a rabbit under the influence of drugs and they find themselves also lost. That one rabbit had many baby rabbits alive nearby so Georgie decides to take care of them but he can't even help himself too high and tired. Your taken through a wild day in the life of these two characters. Beverley home Maybe the better story of the collection along with emergency. The main character has taken a job at a home for the terminally ill and sick. He's a drug addict on therapy and trying to quit, he also has a tendency to be a voyeur a peeping tom on a religious couple, Mennonites and from near their window he sees all, their prayer, their religious readings and their love. In the home he finds a sense of belonging, people with a struggle. Some lines I noted "The downpour raked the asphalt and gurgled in the ruts." "Under Midwestern clouds like great grey brains." "We took our passenger to a residential street where the buds were forcing themselves out of the tips of branches and the seeds were moaning in the gardens." "This situation had been a secret until now, like a terminal disease." "There moments in the Vine like that one--where you might think today was yesterday, and yesterday was tomorrow, and so on. Because we all believed we were tragic, and we drank. We had that helpless, destined feeling. We would die with handcuffs on. We would be put a stop to, and it wouldn't be our fault. So we imagined. And yet we were always being found innocent for ridiculous reasons." "..,it burbled like a machine that polishes stones all night." Review along with the movie trailer available @http://more2read.com/review/jesus-son-by-denis-johnson/

  23. 5 out of 5

    R.

    The novelization of the Mountain Goats album We Shall All Be Healed. Or We Shall All Be Healed is actually Jesus' Son: The Musical!. Either way. _____ Note: In "The Art of Reading Denis Johnson" (Poets and Writers, Nov/Dec 2013, pgs. 23-27), the guest columnist suggests that the line I knew every raindrop by its name is symptomatic of a "want of Wordsworthian affinity for the natural world, or a groping after a kind of Buddhist cohesion with the cosmos..." I call bullshit on this Boston University The novelization of the Mountain Goats album We Shall All Be Healed. Or We Shall All Be Healed is actually Jesus' Son: The Musical!. Either way. _____ Note: In "The Art of Reading Denis Johnson" (Poets and Writers, Nov/Dec 2013, pgs. 23-27), the guest columnist suggests that the line I knew every raindrop by its name is symptomatic of a "want of Wordsworthian affinity for the natural world, or a groping after a kind of Buddhist cohesion with the cosmos..." I call bullshit on this Boston University fellow's twee reading of the line. My take, if I'm allowed one, is that the line isn't some Adam's grand glorious reach towards the sparkling fingertip of a past Master, but rather the tossed-off remark of somebody (the narrator, Fuckhead) so storm-tossed and exhausted that, yeah, at this point in their journey, after so many hours standing in the rain, they have had enough. Enough. It's sarcasm. Like, for example, if you were stuck at an airport for half a day (or more in these airport times) you'd say, "Man, I should have my mail delivered here." So, if you're stuck in the downpour drunk and high and coming down and going up and veering sideways, yeah, you, too, would know every raindrop by its name. You're acquainted. You've become familiar. I wouldn't feel the need to vent, but the article's author takes gleeful pains to paint Jesus' Son's main readership as "mid-twenties, white and male...revere On the Road and third-raters such as Charles Bukowski and William S. Burroughs...want to be fiction writers but have never read Henry James". But despite the snarky attitude, "The Art of Reading Denis Johnson" is worth tracking down if you see an old pile of Poets and Writers magazines, or are spinning at the microfiche machine wondering what to call up on-screen with that beautiful antique, as the article's author makes some helpful parallels between Johnson's novel and the works of Hemingway and Flannery O'Connor. Oh, and you'll learn more about good, clear writing from Bukowski than James. You will. You just will.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Doug H - On Hiatus

    What’s the deal with great writers and drugs and/or alcohol? It seems most of my favorite writers start out with amazing talent and then slowly fizzle out under the weight of some form of substance abuse. Patrick Hamilton, Carson McCullers, Richard Yates... (add your own). In my book, Denis Johnson is turning out to be an inverse exception to the rule. For most of his twenties, Johnson was addicted to drugs and alcohol but he quit drinking alcohol in 1978 and quit recreational drugs in 1983 and t What’s the deal with great writers and drugs and/or alcohol? It seems most of my favorite writers start out with amazing talent and then slowly fizzle out under the weight of some form of substance abuse. Patrick Hamilton, Carson McCullers, Richard Yates... (add your own). In my book, Denis Johnson is turning out to be an inverse exception to the rule. For most of his twenties, Johnson was addicted to drugs and alcohol but he quit drinking alcohol in 1978 and quit recreational drugs in 1983 and this is reflected in his writing. I think his talent has grown immensely with his continued sobriety. I haven’t read Angels yet (his first novel, published in 1983), but I’m in no rush. I’d much rather start with his more recent work and move backwards to that one and, if I never get to it, I won’t fret. I loved The Largesse of the Sea Maiden (2014) so much that I still haven’t written the review that I want to write for it and I enjoyed Resuscitation Of A Hanged Man (1991) very much, but I think Jesus' Son is only so-so. I found most of the stories in it to be a bit “samey” and not particularly interesting. Should drug addicts be so boring? Okay, come to think of it: maybe so. And maybe that’s Johnson’s point? Anyhow, if this collection had been my first experience with this author, I doubt I’d want to read more. Thankfully, it wasn’t and I do want to read more. Lots more.

  25. 5 out of 5

    DDreads

    A hallucinagenic fairytale about a lost soul in the 1970s, a man who feels too much, sees too much, experiences too much, where pleasure and pain intermingle. Stunning prose, astonishing insights. Read this is you're looking for something different and exceptional.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    I re-read this book in June 2017 because Denis Johnson died at the end of May 2017 and it felt appropriate to mark that somehow. He has written several books that I admire but Jesus' Son is one of those books where the language re-wires your brain as you read it and you come out of it a different person than you were when you started it. And it only takes a couple of hours to read, so that suggests a pretty intense experience. And it is. The New York Times says it: "is his fifth book of fiction, I re-read this book in June 2017 because Denis Johnson died at the end of May 2017 and it felt appropriate to mark that somehow. He has written several books that I admire but Jesus' Son is one of those books where the language re-wires your brain as you read it and you come out of it a different person than you were when you started it. And it only takes a couple of hours to read, so that suggests a pretty intense experience. And it is. The New York Times says it: "is his fifth book of fiction, the previous four being novels with similar preoccupations: loveless promiscuity, the abuse of narcotics and alcohol, the debilitating effects of parental neglect and the sometimes violent paradoxes inherent in the Christian notions of salvation and self-sacrifice. His prose, especially in this book and in the novels ‘Angels’ and ‘Resuscitation of a Hanged Man’, consistently generates imagery of ferocious intensity, much of it shaded with a menacing, even deranged sense of humor. No American novelist since William Burroughs has so flagrantly risked ‘insensitivity’ in an effort to depict the pathology of addiction." The title of the book comes from the Velvet Underground song "Heroin" and this is apt because the unnamed (apart from his nickname that I won’t mention here as it is a bit rude) narrator is a heroin addict: When I'm rushing on my run And I feel just like Jesus' son And I guess that I just don't know And I guess that I just don't know Sometimes this book is described as a collection of short stories, but I think it is fair to call it a novel. The stories are linked by more than having the same narrator. They refer to one another, characters repeat (sometimes strangely given that the chronology isn’t linear) and even though they are all separate episodes, there is a feeling of a story developing. Our narrator goes from drug-addled adventures through to a detox program. It definitely hangs together. The non-linear chronology adds to the disjointed feel. I’ve never "done drugs" but I can imagine that the kind of atmosphere Johnson creates here would resonate for those who have. For me, what I see is a group of people with absolutely no roots, no stability: they go where life takes them without thinking about the consequences of actions for themselves or for others. It leads to some comedy, but also to some scary situations. And then there’s the language. For a while, I tried to highlight the beautiful sentences, but I soon realised I was highlighting more than I wasn’t. A few examples (I hope you like them as much as I do - it may be that they work best in context with the rest of the book): Sometimes what I wouldn’t give to have us sitting in a bar again at 9.00am telling lies to one another, far from God Generally, the closest I ever came to wondering about the meaning of it all was to consider that I must be the victim of a joke. It was a long straight road through dry fields as far as a person could see. You’d think the sky didn’t have any air in it, and the earth was made of paper. Rather than moving, we were just getting smaller and smaller. On the farther side of the field, just beyond the curtains of snow, the sky was torn away and the angels were descending out of a brilliant blue summer, their huge faces streaked with light and full of pity. The sight of them cut through my heart and down the knuckles of my spine, and if there’d been anything in my bowels I would have messed my pants from fear. Georgie opened his arms and cried out, “It’s the drive-in, man!” And sometimes a dust storm would stand off in the desert, towering so high it was like another city—a terrifying new era approaching, blurring our dreams. When I first read this book (many years ago), it made me realise that language could do things to me that, until then, I think I had thought only music could do. Re-reading it now (maybe the fourth or fifth time - I’ve lost count a bit), I still see it the same way. PS The film version is also excellent!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Malbadeen

    I don't usually care for books/stories/movies where drugs are the main topic of conversation but these characters' drug habbits were entirely secondary to their familiarity. There were so many underlinable moments that could've been missed because of the fast/easy pacing. At first I thought "Work" was going to be my favorite but I'm pretty sure "Beverly Home" takes up that spot in the end. Maybe after I pause to catch my breath I'll consider this 4 stars but right now I feel like I've been runni I don't usually care for books/stories/movies where drugs are the main topic of conversation but these characters' drug habbits were entirely secondary to their familiarity. There were so many underlinable moments that could've been missed because of the fast/easy pacing. At first I thought "Work" was going to be my favorite but I'm pretty sure "Beverly Home" takes up that spot in the end. Maybe after I pause to catch my breath I'll consider this 4 stars but right now I feel like I've been running long enough for the high and I'm off to farmers market to imagine who are the Amish people and who had encephalitis when they were young. *Here is a link to Tobias Wolf reading, "Knife in the Eye" from this collection. As far as I'm concerned hearing a Johnson story read by Wolf is pretty much like being carried in a swaddling embrace to a spectacular vista by the imagined imperfections of people you love. Maybe you'll think it's swell too - ? http://www.newyorker.com/online/2009/...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    “And therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person’s life on this earth. I don’t mean that we all end up dead, that’s not the great pity. I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.” . Imagine, you’re driving at sunset on the highway, the speedometer hits 80,90,100. You have a cigarette in your left hand, the tip burns bright as you ash it out the window. You’re surrounded by five friends, two cramped into the front seat the other three in “And therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person’s life on this earth. I don’t mean that we all end up dead, that’s not the great pity. I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.” . Imagine, you’re driving at sunset on the highway, the speedometer hits 80,90,100. You have a cigarette in your left hand, the tip burns bright as you ash it out the window. You’re surrounded by five friends, two cramped into the front seat the other three in the back. The radio is playing a song you all know the words to, you’re eighteen, you’re invincible. There’s no restriction to what the night brings, you’re alive, loved, broken, full of euphoric nostalgia. . That is how I felt while reading Jesus’ son by Denis Johnson, it was finding the perfect short story collection over 25 years since it had been published, it ironically made me feel alive. The interconnected stories are all told by the same narrator weaving his life over a period of youthful years living as a heroin addict, an alcoholic, a lover, and a friend. This book reached parts of me I didn’t know I still felt. It’s short but so long in the lasting impression it will leave on me. Johnson has won the National Book Award and been a finalist for the Pulitzer, and somehow it wasn’t for this collection. There was such much humanity in these pages, it dripped with feverish longing, for what I feel can be interpreted in many different ways. So many have told me how great this book was and I’m glad I finally found the right time to read it. It’s perfect, a modern classic, a book I will probably re-read before the end of the year again. The haunting final line keeps you wanting more “all these weirdos, and me getting a little better everyday right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us” .

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nate D

    A simultaneously lucid and dreamlike Trainspotting for the American Midwest. And it's as funny as it is poignant. At first, I read everything at simple face value, drinking in bleary mood and vague, impressionistic set pieces. After a few stories, though, the disjointed action began to leave me looking for broader connections and meanings. But in the end, I'm content to leave it alone. If I find myself grasping at epiphany that skims fingertips but stays just out of reach and hazy, well, then I'm A simultaneously lucid and dreamlike Trainspotting for the American Midwest. And it's as funny as it is poignant. At first, I read everything at simple face value, drinking in bleary mood and vague, impressionistic set pieces. After a few stories, though, the disjointed action began to leave me looking for broader connections and meanings. But in the end, I'm content to leave it alone. If I find myself grasping at epiphany that skims fingertips but stays just out of reach and hazy, well, then I'm only that much closer to the bewildered narrator who recounts it. I think the sense of fleeting and half-seen meaning, here, is in some ways more strongly felt and significant than that meaning itself. "We were grimy and tired. Usually we felt guilty and frightened, because there was something wrong with us, and we didn't know what it was; but today we had the feeling of men who had worked." "'There's so much goop inside of us, man ... and it all wants to get out.'" "'What did you say when she shot you?' 'I said, you shot me!' 'Both times? Both wives?' 'The first time I didn't say anything because she shot me in the mouth.'"

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rachel León

    WHOA. When Denis Johnson died last week I learned how revered he was and realized I needed to read his work. I started with this one since it's probably his most famous. I was blown away. Obviously it's time to read more of his work. Indeed, we lost an amazing writer.

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