That occasion comes when Reed reaches the premature end of his university appointment--and meets a redheaded cellist, the sort of wild, witchy, and becomingly deranged coed often found in books but perhaps less often in life. Flower Cannon (not, as one may imagine, the name she was born with) also shaves her pubic hair as public performance art and offers stripteases for fun and profit on the side. As the novel grows less coherent, Reed blunders into her childhood dream, or memory, which echoes his own dream and is also somehow haunted by the ghost of his daughter, or maybe Flower herself is the ghost of his daughter, or, well, something to that effect. (Dialogue such as "You. Are you a siren? A witch?" does little to clarify the situation.) But in the end it doesn't matter, because the dilemma this student presents Reed is as old as all time, and as easy to describe: "To let my wife and child be dead. I didn't think I was cruel enough for that. Because that is what the imperfections in Flower's skin invited me to do. There was a sense in which Anne and Elsie had to be killed, and killing them was up to me."
Actually, this sort of straightforward psychological exposition isn't really Johnson's bag. Like his antihero, he's after "the unforeseen"--that which can't be explained in words but only suggested through imagery, the more shocking the better. "In my current frame of mind I'd hoped for warnings much stranger and not so obvious," Reed thinks after reading a religious tract. In a similar vein, Johnson instructs us how to read his book: "I think this narrative might cohere, if I ask you to fix it with this vision: luminous images, summoned and dismissed in a flowering vagueness." Vagueness does indeed flower here, but it does so amid flashes of genuine brilliance, the kind of writing that gave the classic Jesus' Son its particular brand of unhinged lyricism.
Reed, for instance, is surrounded by characters in memorably Johnsonian states of desperation. History professor Tiberius Soames, fresh on the heels of a nervous breakdown: "Michael, we must get out of this flatness. The flatness and the regimented plant life. The vastly regimented plant life"; the caterer, a Peter Lorre look-alike who calls herself the Froggy Bitch and has the "smashed sinuses of an English bulldog"; the head trauma patient who wanders the grounds of a former lunatic asylum, holding aloft a small, imaginary object like an invisible torch: "I don't know. I can't see it. It's very light." No one but Johnson could bestow such radiant strangeness upon the inhabitants of a Midwestern college town. And if Reed's final, defiantly unreflective stance isn't much of a revelation, well, one hates to request a man with a knife sticking out of his eye in every Denis Johnson book. As brief and vivid as a hallucination, The Name of the World is the work of a prose musician who wisely refuses to play the same note twice. --Mary Park
Mr.Johnson has a great talent, but it is not evident here.
This novel/novella is a very short work (143 pages) but reads like a tweener ( a too long, short story or a novel that didn't quite develope).
This premise could work, except that Johnson's trademark spot-on dialog and wit seem to be missing, and the story lacks conviction.
Spoiler alert: we never learn the name of the world.
More seriously, though, I want to like Dennis Johnson. Read more
I bought this book because I'd recently read a short story of Johnson's in The New Yorker, so I thought I'd give one of his books a try. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Crispin Crispian
At a pivotal moment toward the end of this novella, the protagonist, a college professor in the Midwest of the U.S. Read morePublished 17 months ago by BassoProfundo
If you haven't experienced Johnson, stop reading this review right now and go find Jesus' Son. It is arguably his best work--a nuanced, bitter, darkly hilarious short story... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Kevin F. Tasker
I read Denis Johnson's Angels a long time ago and was impressed by this writer who I'd never heard of (yes, bad English). Then I read Already Dead, and it really impressed me! Read morePublished on June 30, 2012 by Amazon Customer
This novella tells the story of a midwestern college professor who loses his own identity when his wife and daughter are killed in an auto accident. Read morePublished on November 22, 2011 by TDAdams
This is not the best Johnson novel. However, it is very good and the pain the protagonist feels is unreal; because of this, his departure from the pain is highly redeeming.Published on July 10, 2011 by J. Smallridge
Disappointment. I loved Jesus's Son and Seek, and hoped this book would give me more of Johnson's unique prose, his surprising tragic and tragicomic images. Read morePublished on May 21, 2011 by MZ
This very short novel is a reminiscence by now journalist Michael Reed in the early 1990s of an eventful, disjointed, and bizarre summer of a few years before at the age of... Read morePublished on February 8, 2010 by J. Grattan