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Jesus' Son: Stories Paperback – February 17, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 208 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The unnamed narrator in Jesus' Son lives through a car wreck and a heroin overdose. Is he blessed? He cheats, lies, steals--but possesses a child's (or a mystic's) uncanny way of expressing the bare essence of things around him. In its own strange and luminous way, this linked collection of short fiction does the same. The stories follow characters who are seemingly marginalized beyond hope, drifting through a narcotic haze of ennui, failed relationships, and petty crime. In "Dundun" the narrator decides to take a shooting victim to the hospital, though not for the usual reasons: "I wanted to be the one who saw it through and got McInnes to the doctor without a wreck. People would talk about it, and I hoped I would be liked." Later he takes his own pathetic stab at violence in "The Other Man," attempting to avenge a drug rip-off but succeeding only at terrorizing an innocent family. Each meandering story--some utterly lacking in the usual elements of plot, including a beginning and an end--nonetheless demands compulsive reading, with Denis Johnson's first calling as a poet apparent in the off-kilter beauty of his prose. Open to any page and gems spill forth: "I knew every raindrop by its name. I sensed everything before it happened. I knew a certain Oldsmobile would stop for me even before it slowed, and by the sweet voices of the family inside that we'd have an accident in the storm."

The most successful stories in the collection offer moments of startling clarity. In "Car Crash While Hitchhiking," for instance, the narrator feels most alive while in the presence of another's loss: "Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn't know yet that her husband was dead.... What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I've gone looking for that feeling everywhere." In "Work," while "salvaging" copper wire from a flooded house to fund their habits, the narrator and an acquaintance stop to watch the nearly unfathomable sight of a beautiful, naked woman paragliding up the river. Later the narrator learns that the house once belonged to his down-and-out accomplice and that the woman is his estranged wife. "As nearly as I could tell, I'd wandered into some sort of dream that Wayne was having about his wife, and his house," he reasons. Such is the experience for the reader. More Genet than Bukowski, Denis Johnson lures us into a misfit soul's dream from which he can't awake. --Langdon Cook --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Taking its title from a line in Lou Reed's notorious song "Heroin," this story collection by with-it novelist Johnson focuses on the familiar themes of addiction and recovery. In his novels ( Angels ; Resuscitation of a Hanged Man ) Johnson has shown his ability to transform the commonplace into the extraordinary, but this volume of 11 stories is no better than, and often seems inferior to, the self-destruction/spiritual rehab books currently crowding bookstore shelves. All of the tales, set in the Midwest and West, are told by a single narrator, and while this should provide unity and depth, instead it makes the stories fragmentary and monotonous. Some disturbing moments do recall Johnson at his inventive best, as when a peeping Tom catches sight of a Mennonite man washing his wife's feet after a marital spat in "Beverly Home," or when the narrator 'fesses up to his fright in a confrontation with the boyfriend--"a mean, skinny, intelligent man who I happened to feel inferior to"--of a woman he's fondling in "Two Men." But for the most part the stories are neurasthenic, as though Johnson hopes the shock value of characters fatally overdosing in the presence of lovers and friends will substitute for creativity and hard work from him. Even the dialogue for the most part lacks Johnson's usual energy.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 133 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (February 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031242874X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312428747
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (208 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The beauty of Johnson's prose is evident in every one of these stories. The subject matter is dark, depressing, hallucinegenic, and yet the collection's overall feel is uplifting. Johnson could have written some cliched grotesqueries about the drug life, could have piled on the filth and dirt of it all, but he doesn't. The down-and-out characters, most of them junkies and criminals, are given a healthy dose of humanity, where a lesser writer would have turned them into abominable caricatures. Unlike most post modern writers, Johnson cares deeply about his characters and this comes out in every story. He doesn't follow the pomo aesthetic by declaring that life is inherently meaningless or hopeless, far from it. What we come to find in this amazing collection is the presence of hope in all things, no matter how low or degraded things might appear. And that is precisely what Denis Johnson shows us. There is beauty in everything, and if we can't see that, then we are not fully human.
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Format: Paperback
This slim book can easily be read in a few hours. The short stories are all vignettes out of the lives of the addicted and the desperate.
What this book does, better than any other book I've read, is capture the beauty and tragedy of these lost lives. Johnson is great at imagery, whether the misty, sunlit dive bar on a rickety pier, or the deserted drive-in in the snow. He's also great at writing from the inside of these characters-- their tragic worldview makes sense through their eyes. The hallucinatory beauty of these "prose-poems" goes hand-in-hand with the altered perceptions of the characters-- these people live as if in a dream state.
If you're ready to write off people on the fringes of society, then you probably won't appreciate this book. Like he did in "Angels," Johnson takes these forgotten people, and makes them live and breathe on the page. Many times, his characters seem more truly alive than those who would write them off or forget about them.
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Format: Paperback
I've never read anything by Chuck Palahniuk. I know about him, however, because the movie 'Fight Club' is based upon Palahniuk's novel of the same title. Chuck Palahniuk is a big fan of Denis Johnson's collection of short stories, 'Jesus' Son.' A recent article about Palahniuk in Poets & Writers Magazine says that Palahniuk 'has read 'Jesus' Son' over and over'more than two hundred times.' Palahniuk says, in that article, 'whenever I'm stuck, that's a book I read to sort of jump start myself.'
Palahniuk's endorsement was good enough for me. Any book that someone has read more than two hundred times must be worthwhile, or at least worth taking a look at. Besides, this remarkable collection of short stories is only 160 pages long, the pages are small (I measured it and it was about 7' x 4'), and there are not many words on each page. It doesn't take long to read. If it matters, I also always knew Denis Johnson was out there, a highly regarded poet and novelist, ever since 'Fiskadoro' had been published more than a decade ago. I had to read something by him sometime.
I sat down last night and started reading 'Jesus' Son' and didn't put it down until I was finished. It didn't take me long and was worth every minute. 'Jesus' Son' contains eleven short stories, all written in the first person, all connected by the common voice of the same narrator, a young, strung-out misfit whose pathology permeates every story. The stories are grim, just like the dark, desperate life of the narrator, just like the violent, disconnected, drug-clouded lives of the people who surround him. They are stories in which the narrator seemingly transcends his life, his drug- and alcohol-induced cloud of unknowing illuminating an at times crystalline-pure vision of the world.
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Format: Paperback
At first, I confess, I didn't know what to make of the stories that make up the collection "Jesus' Son". What does one make of stories about someone who is an addict through and through, determinedly ruining his life because it no longer seems to matter what happens to him? During the first fifty pages I had a visceral reaction to this book that was making me not only dislike it, but become angry at it; why should I care about people who won't help themselves, what is there to like about any of these people, etc. Then I began to notice tiny glimpses of carefully disguised humanism that leaked out of Johnson's prose, and went back to see if I had been missing them all along (sure enough, they had been there the whole time). I can only guess that my initial reaction was too volatile to pick up on subtle nuances of hope, and I am glad that I stuck with it long enough for that to die down because "Jesus' Son" is actually a remarkably heartfelt work despite its visceral tone. The characters are damaged and desperately unhappy people underneath their angry, hardened exteriors -- desperate for a connection that they can't bring themselves to hold on to, nor are they willing to put themselves out to get it. We never get to see why any of them are so damaged, which is mildly frustrating, but since it doesn't matter to the plots of the stories anyway it would have been out of place to get a lot of exposition. The misadventures and sometimes untimely demises of these characters are seen through the eyes of an unnamed narrator who lives among them, drinks with them, does drugs with them, uses them and is used by them. He is angry, confused, and suicidal, making his narration a spellbinding excursion into the pathos of the addict.Read more ›
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