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Already Dead: A California Gothic Paperback – May 19, 1998

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Already Dead: A California Gothic + Angels: A Novel + Jesus' Son: Stories
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this black comedy of Wagnerian proportions, Nelson Fairchild, a wealthy Californian, is also a professional marijuana farmer with strong ties to the counterculture. Fairchild meets his nemesis in Carl Van Ness, a psychotic drifter obsessed with Nietzsche. Fairchild has it all, and Van Ness is going to take it from him. In a moral sense, Van Ness is "already dead"; his soul has left his body, and a demon has moved in. Johnson's first work of fiction since Jesus' Son (LJ 11/1/92) covers the same territory as T.C. Boyle's horticultural classic Budding Prospects (LJ 4/15/84), but this is a much darker and more disturbing work. The pace is excruciatingly slow, the structure sloppy, and the huge cast of weirdos unwieldy, but Johnson's druggy prose is simply gorgeous. This work will do little to change his reputation as a cult novelist, but Johnson's fans will recognize the book as a worthy successor to Angels (LJ 8/83), his astonishing debut novel. Recommended for most serious fiction collections.?Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch., Los Angeles
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Johnson's northern California is a gothic land peopled by the emotionally damaged, the walking wounded, veterans of wars and drugs and drug deals gone bad; it is a coast inhabited by real spirits and lost souls, madmen and hitmen. With his noir premise--a pot grower hires a drifter to murder his wife--poet and novelist Johnson weaves an intricate tale of the intertwined lives of more than a dozen denizens of Mendocino County, California. Shifting perspectives and jumps in chronology contribute to a hallucinatory narrative that parallels the borderline psychoses of a majority of the book's characters. Johnson's strengths lie in his lyrical descriptions of the Pacific Coast and the surprising depth he evokes in his character development. Nelson Fairchild Jr., whose first-person narration is the centerpiece of Already Dead, is a Nietzche-quoting paranoid, a grower of marijuana who really is being hounded by a couple of hired guns. Fairchild enlists the assistance of his partner, Clarence, for protection, while Navarro, a displaced cop, finds himself caught up in the insanity brought on by Fairchild's misdeeds. Throughout, the omnipresent scent of violence grows more and more pungent. Reminiscent of the work of Robert Stone and Jim Harrison. Benjamin Segedin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Edition edition (May 19, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006092909X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060929091
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #198,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

The plot is difficult to navigate.
Michael Lieberman
Having read all his fiction, I've never been a huge fan of, say, award-winning Tree of Smoke, my fav. before reading this was Angels, his first novel.
Nuri K
Johnson has an amazing grasp of language and metaphor.
Joseph A. Isahack

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A. Hickman on January 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
Having read and enjoyed Denis Johnson's collection of loosely connected short stories, "Jesus' Son," I was excited to find a remaindered copy of his novel, "Already Dead" at the bookstore. I had pegged Johnson as a minimalist on the basis of "Jesus' Son," a relatively quick read, but this more recent offering ran to over 430 pages. It took some hundred pages to get a handle on the plot, but once the expository smoke had cleared and I had acclimated myself to Johnson's cast of quirky characters, the book began to take hold of my imagination. The story involves a young man, Nelson Fairchild, the scion of a wealthy North California family, who makes a pact with the "devil" (in the form of a suicidal but otherwise underdrawn phantom named Carl Van Ness) to kill his wife, Winona, who stands between him and his inheritance. Other characters, including John Navarro, a police officer transplanted from the killing fields of L.A. to bucolic coastal Northern California, and Clarence Meadows, Fairchild's partner in a marijauna farm, weave in and out of the narrative haze, but with limited impact on the reader. The conclusion is less than satisfying, but I remain impressed by Johnson himself. As a stylist he demonstrates an uncanny grasp of contemporary idiom, which includes a killer vocabulary (he added both "jactitation" and "trigetour" to my humble lexicon). "Already Dead" appears to owe something to another author whose locus is the American West Coast, Ken Kesey, in the epic sense of "Sometimes a Great Notion" and in the surreal, stream-of-consciousness of both that novel and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Kesey's muse burned out early; I hope that Johnson will continue to develop as an artist, next time in the service of a more powerful story.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 9, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I had no intention of writing anything about this book - having just finished it I wondered what others thought of it. The two short bewilderingly negative reviews of this book surprised me, but notice that they had little to back up their view. Even the person who loaned me this book did not think it was great, and while it was certainly not as impressive as Jesus' Son (which stunned me in its brevity and impact), it held my attention throughout, even, as another reviewer wrote, you knew - to some degree - what would happen. Hell, just read the title and you know what'll happen. Perhaps the fact this book requires a bit of effort from the reader is what put off the reviewers that gave it such a low rating. But what good book doesn't? Yes, the chgaracters are in various states of mental crisis, alcohol and drug effects and after-effects, and real and imagined paranoia; so when do those ingredients make for bad noir? Johnson allowed me to feel different ways about the characters throughout the book depending on who described them, including one who appears for only a few pages (and a bit later as first a lifeless corpse and then a slightly less lifeless one) and another who never appears at all, which makes me wonder if ALL of the characters' take on that guy is completely off-base. There's dialogue worthy of the better bits of McGuane, long rambling letters that read with great panic fever, and hilarious bits about Nietzsche, who should always be good for a laugh, but is seldom used to excellent effect. More spiritual than Angels, and longer than Jesus' Son, if you love the way Johnson writes than the more the better.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
I, too, am bewildered, and more than a little amused, by the dismissive (and ultimately insubstantial) negative comments of other readers. How can one read this book and not be impressed? Agreed, this was not Johnson's best work, but it should be obvious to any thoughtful reader that this is a gifted writer, and that this novel--like each of Johnson's in its own way--is unique and thought-provoking and, yes, compelling. Those who are "bored" with this novel should probably not tax their poor brain cells too much. For them, a little friendly advice: Stick to Grisham or Clancy. "Already Dead" is neither "Jesus' Son" nor "Angels" nor "Fiskadoro"--but then, asking him to repeatedly crank out more of the same is a little like complaining that Dylan refuses to keep re-writing "Like a Rolling Stone." Johnson takes huge risks with each outing and obviously intentionally avoids the mainstream--and admittedly this novel is not perfect. But it undoubtedly ranks among the top five or six literary works of 1997-98. An excellent work: simultaneously funny, bizarre, stunning, off-beat, and hallucinatory--in other words, typical Johnson.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By courtney J angermeier on May 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
When I read this book I found myself desperately feeling like my life resembled it far far more closely than I would have liked. Already Dead is a haunting and horrible journey where the sickening downward spiral of Nelson Fairchild's inner life is mirrored in his northern California community. Maybe it's more than that, maybe it's even that somehow Fairchild, through his possibly demonic counterpart Carl Van Ness, is at the center of this spiritual gyre that engulfs the whole coast. I don't think it's a coincidence that Van Ness's attempted suicide, which acts as a catalyst for all the later action in the book, is a drowning. The whole thing is like being pulled slowly but steadliy from beneath in a deep pool of your own cerebral juices; you can feel yourself pulling more and more of that sour liquid into your lungs as you read. So, while that might not sound like much of a reccommendation, I think any book that can make you feel that way, must be a great book. The aforementioned experience while not necessarily plesant, is not bereft of a certain ammount of humor or bemeusment as might be expected with your life flashing before your eyes; life is, after all, funny stuff. There's no denying that Already Dead is dark, that it's hard, that it does make you feel sort of dead, but it also sharpens the senses and gives a thread of clarity about what is eternal and vital; it helps you see what makes life worth the living. It does that in a very twisted way of course, but really, this is Denis Johnson, what else did we expect.
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