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Angels: A Novel Paperback – April 30, 2002
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From the Back Cover
-- The New York Times Book Review
This novel, which suggests a brilliant mixture of William Blake and James M. Cain, established Denis Johnson as a major talent in American fiction, a promise confirmed in his later books Fiskadoro and The Stars at Noon. Jamie Mays and Bill Houston meet on a Greyhound bus. She is fleeing an unfaithful husband and lugging two travel-stained children. He is on the rebound from stints in jail and the navy and looking for "high old times." Together, they make an aimless tour of bus stations and cheap hotels from Pittsburgh to Phoenix, their momentum fueled by booze, rage, and corrosive need, their journey a trajectory that leads inexorably to a moment of shattering violence.
"A small masterpiece... prose of amazing power and stylishness."
-- Philip Roth
"A debut to be celebrated."
-- Washington Post Book World --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
_Angels_ is a world of bus depots and scurrilous strangers, of people who can scarcely see past the haze of their cigarettes. It is a lonely world of randomness and drift. Some might say Johnson's characters aren't "3D", but that's because they're so richly flat. And when Johnson takes us into Jamie's descent into madness, it is a mind-bending trip.
Yet somehow, Johnson's writing left me exhilerated and happy. I enjoyed this book immensely and had trouble putting it down--I would rank it among the best I've read over the last five years.
I've read criticisms of "Angels" bemoaning the sketchy take on the central characters, but I disagree that this is a failing. Johnson gives us enough for us to sympathize and, at times, empathize with his motley cast, and certainly enough to share in their everyday epiphanies, when they see the world fresh and new and each moment appears precious and, by the miracle of Johnson's poetic prose, we see out of their eyes.
Likewise criticism falls upon Bill Houston's fate as being somehow unemotional, but this very fact suggests that we are not simply being asked to consider the ethics of capital punishment, but also to dwell on our own, that is to say everyone's, inevitable fate - the blind certainty of our mortality.
The entire work questions the role of personal will versus that of circumstance in deciding the choices we make. I do not think that a pat answer is provided, instead the question is raised and investigated through the thoughts and deeds of Johnson's miscreants.
All of this is dressed in Johnson's universally praised and delicately wrought language. For me, this novel is a celebration of the power of words to first and foremost communicate - if we gain a window into the souls of "Angels"' lost protagonists, then how much easier to see inside our own, and inside those who surround us.
P.S. I originally posted this way back in '99, and have since changed my e-address, so I'm reposting it. I have since read many other of Johnson's works - including his poetry - and must admit to being somewhat disappointed in comparison to the achievement and intensity of this book and Resusitation. If you were to read only one of Johnson's works, this - moreso than anything else (including Jesus' Son) - is the one.