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Angels: A Novel


Angels: A Novel Cover

ISBN13: 9780060988821
ISBN10: 0060988827
All Product Details


Staff Pick

After having spent years as a poet, Johnson decided to move into fiction. Angels was the first fruit of that decision — and what a piece of fruit. Other authors would kill to have a work this strong in their canon, let alone a work this strong as their first novel. It showed that Johnson was going to be a major force in American literature.
Recommended by Shawn,

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The most critically acclaimed, and first, of Denis Johnson's novels, Angels puts Jamie Mays — a runaway wife toting along two kids — and Bill Houston — ex-Navy man, ex-husband, ex-con — on a Greyhound Bus for a dark, wild ride cross country.

Driven by restless souls, bad booze, and desperate needs, Jamie and Bill bounce from bus stations to cheap hotels as they ply the strange, fascinating, and dangerous fringe of American life. Their tickets may say Phoenix, but their inescapable destination is a last stop marked by stunning violence and mind-shattering surprise.

Denis Johnson, known for his portraits of America's dispossessed, sets off literary pyrotechnics on this highway odyssey, lighting the trek with wit and a personal metaphysics that defiantly takes on the world.


"Denis Johnson is one of our most inventive, unpredictable novelists." The New York Times Book Review


"A small masterpiece...prose of amazing power and stylishness." Philip Roth


"A debut to be celebrated." Washington Post Book World

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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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

green9monster, November 6, 2010 (view all comments by green9monster)
I first read this novel when it was taught in one of my Contemporary Lit classes in college. Since then I've read all of Denis Johnson's novels, JESUS' SON, and some of his poetry.

ANGELS is a powerful and at times horrifying work of fiction.

Without authorial condescension, Johnson uses spare prose with the cooked-down concentration of poetry to depict characters on the fringes. Bill Houston and Jamie are not the sort of people many readers might feel comfortable reading about. They, and other characters later in the story, exist in the no-man's-land of addiction, alcoholism and insanity. Terrible violence comes into play. Readers who look to fiction as a source of light amusement, or for imaginary friends, might do well to avoid this novel.

But beyond the drugs, brutality and degradation, Johnson then goes on to explore moral territory, which in my opinion is what makes this novel so hard-hitting. As Bill Houston and Jamie meet their separate fates, each must grapple with the social and moral consequences of his and her actions.

The last lines of this book are a killer, and upon rereading the novel I read the ending 15 or 20 times. Plot, theme and character come together in a razor-sharp point.

Highly recommended.
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OneMansView, February 25, 2010 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Grim reality

In this first novel by the author, stark reality, messiness, pain, despair, and grit are shoveled out in spades. From the start, as Jamie Mays with her two young children is leaving her husband, at the Oakland bus station she sees the “dwarfs … struggling with mutilated luggage and paper sacks that might have contained … the reasons for their every regretted act and the justifications for their wounds.” Her destination is her sister-in-law’s house in Hershey, PA. Her general apprehension is palpable: “confused at being swallowed up so quickly by her new life, fearful she’d be digested in a flash and spit out the other end in the form of an old lady too dizzy to wonder where her youth had gone.” Her observations and intimations at the start are mere hints at the course her life will take in the next few months.

Jamie never makes it to Hershey. She meets Bill Houston on the bus, a big guy with a kindly grin and a certain appeal, but is an ex-con, ex-sailor, drifter, wise guy, and alcohol abuser – living life on the margins. She is intrigued enough, aided by smuggled beer and uppers and downers on the bus, to stay with him in Pittsburgh. When he takes off for Chicago, demonstrating clearly the bleakness of her life, she tracks him down. Of course, money woes are a constant, driving all manner of survival strategies: pimping Jamie, robbery of a small hardware store, and, more ominously, armed robbery of a bank.

Their downward slide is accelerated in Phoenix, where Bill meets his completely dysfunctional family. Lives unravel and change in this book, stupidity abounds, yet the author’s approach is far more an attempt to appreciate his characters’ situations and decisions than it is to condemn. Both Jamie and Bill have a certain awareness and acceptance of choices made and obstacles faced; they retain some dignity despite their travails and even reprehensible acts. The book in no way romanticizes their lives; it is a pretty clear-eyed, legitimate look at life on the other side with its myriad difficulties and psychological toll and strategies. The author’s language is sharp and unrelenting.
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Product Details

Johnson, Denis
Harper Perennial
by Denis Johnson
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
May 2002
Grade Level:
8.04x5.30x.60 in. .37 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z

Angels: A Novel New Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$12.99 In Stock
Product details 224 pages Harper Perennial - English 9780060988821 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

After having spent years as a poet, Johnson decided to move into fiction. Angels was the first fruit of that decision — and what a piece of fruit. Other authors would kill to have a work this strong in their canon, let alone a work this strong as their first novel. It showed that Johnson was going to be a major force in American literature.

"Review" by , "Denis Johnson is one of our most inventive, unpredictable novelists."
"Review" by , "A small masterpiece...prose of amazing power and stylishness."
"Review" by , "A debut to be celebrated."
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