rroseselavy, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by rroseselavy)
An elegy for the most common sort of person who must in some ways typify who really settled the American West. Much in the spirit of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, Johnson finds the glory and poetry in the life of someone people did not even notice had died. An amazing book that could not be more well written, nor written with more economy.
Darin, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Darin)
Proving that powerful writing does not require an abundance of technical flourishes and exuberant verbosity, Denis Johnson's masterful novella tells its tale with a language so precisely honed the reader feels an immediate kinship with Robert Grainier, the early 20th century woodsman whose life of considerable loss we experience. Born in 1886 in either Utah or Canada, Grainier never knew his birth family. Hiring on first with logging outfits in Washington state, then with the railroads, he has never shirked from honest, hard labor. Finally meeting a woman of whom he feels worthy, he marries in his early 30s and has a daughter, only to suffer unspeakable tragedy.
Retreating from society to his self-built cabin in the woods, Robert is our guide through the early 20th century as technogical marvels outpaced the capacity to adapt to them. He has driven wagons with teams of horses, built and rode the rails, motored in early automobiles and even flown in a biplane. That this novella (first published in the Paris Review in 2002) tells of alienation juxtaposed with advanced technology which purportedly makes communication and travel easier, the parallels to the early 21st century never cease to amaze; with all of the gadgetry and telecommunications devices at our disposal, are we any less isolated than the part-time hermit living at the edges of his time and place? The effect is a temporal displacement that lesser writers could not pull off.
Beautifully composed, gorgeously literate, full of wondrous yet precise description, Train Dreams transports its readers across time to experience the heartache of one man and his place in a country which does its best to strip him of all that is worth living. Scenes of natural wonder, heartbreaking tenderness and phantasmagorical echoes compete to create a landscape of the human heart. Highly recommended to read annually as a reminder of our place in the grand scheme of things.
CRS, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by CRS)
My son recommended this book to me. We like to read beautifully written novels and this certainly is a standout. The author has concentrated on a period of American history and a specific place with authentic language and detail. It is a short, small book. It doesn't take very long to read but it really does transport you to another time and an inspiring mental state of language appreciation.
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