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Seek: Reports from the Edges of America and Beyondby Denis Johnson
The best thing about Denis Johnson's writing is that he never seems to take the easy way out. Some of these nonfiction pieces in this collection are searing and brutal, a few are soul searching, and a couple just plain funny. They made me think about differently about the people and places that are his subjects, and not necessarily for the better. If you've read Johnson's fiction you should enjoy these essays; if you haven't, Seek might not be the easiest place to start, but it will be a rewarding one.
In 1992 the New Yorker sent Denis Johnson to Africa to interview Charles Taylor, the self-described president of Liberia. Everything was carefully planned before the trip, but when he arrived, he found the New Yorker hadn't realized that it is impossible to schedule a trip to schedule anything in Liberia, let alone an interview with the elusive president. After one particularly frustrating delay, Johnson reviewed the documents that had seemed to ensure everything had been arranged: "Now incomprehensible incantations covered the pages. The words of the messages, the names, the places, even the letterheads pulsed with mystery and a joyous insanity." This is a quintessential Denis Johnson moment. He travels to some indecipherable foreign land whether actual or metaphorical and reveals its mystery and joyous insanity. Though best known as one of the country's most accomplished writers of poetry and fiction, including the sublime classic Jesus' Son, Denis Johnson is also a first-rate journalist. Seek: Reports from the Edges of America and Beyond is his first collection of essays, and a welcome addition indeed to his already impressive body of work. Whether traveling abroad (Africa, the Middle East, the Philippines) or around the country (to a gathering of the Rainbow Family, a Christian bikers' revival, a militia group) Johnson portrays a world that is almost as absurd, gut-wrenching, and hilarious as the one we actually inhabit.
Synopses & Reviews
Part political disquisition, part travel journal, part self-exploration, Seek is a collection of essays and articles in which Denis Johnson essentially takes on the world.And not an obliging, easygoing world either; but rather one in which horror and beauty exist in such proximity that they might well be interchangeable. Where violence and poverty and moral transgression go unchecked, even unnoticed. A world of such wild, rocketing energy that, grasping it, anything at all is possible.
Whether traveling through war-ravaged Liberia, mingling with the crowds at a Christian Biker rally, exploring his own authority issues through the lens of this nation's militia groups, or attempting to unearth his inner resources while mining for gold in the wilds of Alaska, Johnson writes with a mixture of humility and humorous candor that is everywhere present.
With the breathtaking and often haunting lyricism for which his work is renowned, Johnson considers in these pieces our need for transcendence. And, as readers of his previous work know, Johnson's path to consecration frequently requires a limning of the darkest abyss. If the path to knowledge lies in experience, Seek is a fascinating record of Johnson's profoundly moving pilgrimage.
"As a journalist, Johnson searches for something beyond headlines and, at least in this collection, that makes for an intriguing and insightful investigation." Publishers Weekly
"There is a special pleasure in seeing a writer of Denis Johnson's caliber try something that is not his specialty....
"What legitimizes this collection is Johnson's refusal to patronize his subjects. Rather than writing from a throne of moral or intellectual superiority, the author muddles through the murk, searching for a ray of redemption." Don McLeese, Book Magazine
"There isn't an American voice I love listening to more than Denis Johnson's." Michael Herr
In this provocative collection of essays, Denis Johnson opens the doors to a world most Americans have never seen — and few journalists dare to tread. This compilation spans 20 years of observing, reporting, and living on the edge: from the Liberian Civil War to a Christian biker rally; from a militia meeting near Ruby Ridge to a revival meeting of Christian Evangelicals; from the North Carolina Mountains in search of an anti-abortionist bomber to mining for gold in Alaska. Seek offers a hauntingly lyrical portrait of life in the outer fringes of the American dream that is as idiosyncratic and remarkable as Denis Johnson's finest works of fiction.
About the Author
Denis Johnson is the author of The Name of the World, Already Dead, Jesus' Son, Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, Fiskadoro, The Stars at Noon, and Angels. His poetry has been collected in the volume The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly. He is the recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and a Whiting Writer's Award, among many other honors for his work. He lives in northern Idaho.
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