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Jesus' Son: Stories Paperback – February 17, 2009
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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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A lot of short story collections have slow and fast stories, or some worth skipping. You won't want to skip a word in this. So many memorable quotes too! Normally I would list a couple here, but I don't wanna ruin the fun so I'll keep them in context.
Get this book, worth the price. No complaints, checking out the author's other stuff right away.
The lead narrating character misbehaves and makes no apologies, but his unrepentant but still guilty self awareness makes these edgy stories about something. I spent more than a decade working in a SNF, a nursing home and the first part of just one of the stories, the last multiparty story, it's first section was the one piece of writing that nailed what it's like working among nursing home very old or chronically Ill permanently disabled people who cannot live outside such a facility, how difficult and gross the residents can be. Johnson describes what it's like to be grossed out by their condition while still seeing their humanity with great sympathy.
Denis Johnson seems to be pretty big in colleges, especially mine--which is where I first read some works by him, prompting me to further my reading of his work. It's a good book that many will find interesting. If not for the story then for the style he uses to tell his story.
Johnson is truly remarkable in that he accomplishes in a short span what other writers take hundreds of pages to say. As you read you are struck with the feeling that Johnson is writing with the air of familiarity which adds to the authenticity of his work. If you like this read Train Dreams.