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Original Essays | September 30, 2014

Benjamin Parzybok: IMG A Brief History of Video Games Played by Mayors, Presidents, and Emperors



Brandon Bartlett, the fictional mayor of Portland in my novel Sherwood Nation, is addicted to playing video games. In a city he's all but lost... Continue »
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Jesus' Son

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Excerpt

Car Crash While Hitchhiking

A salesman who shared his liquor and steered while sleeping ... A Cherokee filled with bourbon ... A VW no more than a bubble of hashish fumes, captained by a college student ...

And a family from Marshalltown who headonned and killed forever a man driving west out of Bethany, Missouri ...

... I rose up sopping wet from sleeping under the pouring rain, and something less than conscious, thanks to the first three of the people I've already named--the salesman and the Indian and the student--all of whom had given me drugs. At the head of the entrance ramp I waited without hope of a ride. What was the point, even, of rolling up my sleeping bag when I was too wet to be let into anybody's car? I draped it around me like a cape. The downpour raked the asphalt and gurgled in the ruts. My thoughts zoomed pitifully. The travelling salesman had fed me pills that made the linings of my veins feel scraped out. My jaw ached. 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 it I knew we'd have an accident in the storm.The man and the wife put the little girl up front with them and left the baby in back with me and my dripping bedroll. "I'm not taking you anywhere very fast," the man said. "I've got my wife and babies here, that's why."

You are the ones, I thought. And I piled my sleeping bag against the left-hand door and slept across it, not caring whether I lived or died. The baby slept free on the seat beside me. He was about nine months old.

... But before anyof this, that afternoon, the salesman and I had swept down into Kansas City in his luxury car. We'd developed a dangerous cynical camaraderie beginning in Texas, where he'd taken me on. We ate up his bottle of amphetamines, and every 80 often we pulled off the Interstate and bought another pint of Canadian Club and a sack of ice. His car had cylindrical glass holders attached to either door and a white, leathery interior. He said he'd take me home to stay overnight with his family, but first he wanted to stop and see a woman he knew.

Under Midwestern clouds like great grey brains we left the superhighway with a drifting sensation and entered Kansas City's rush hour with a sensation of running aground. As soon as we slowed down, all the magic of travelling together burned away. He went on and on about his girlfriend. "I like this girl, I think I love this girl--but I've got two kids and a wife, and there's certain obligations there. And on top of everything else, I love my wife. I'm gifted with love. I love my kids. I love all my relatives." As he kept on, I felt jilted and sad: "I have a boat, a little sixteen-footer. I have two cars. There's room in the back yard for a swimming pool." He found his girlfriend at work. She ran a furniture store, and I lost him there.

The clouds stayed the same until night. Then, in the dark, I didn't see the storm gathering. The driver of the Volkswagen, a college man, the one who stoked my head with all the hashish, let me out beyond the city limits just as it began to rain. Never mind the speed I'd been taking, I was too overcome to stand up. I lay out in the grass off the exit ramp and woke in the middle of a puddle that had filled up aroundme.

And later, as I've said, I slept in the back seat while the Oldsmobile--the family from Marshalltown--splashed along through the rain. And yet I dreamed I was looking right through my eyelids, and my pulse marked off the seconds of time. The Interstate through western Missouri was, in that era, nothing more than a two-way road, most of it. When a semi truck came toward us and passed going the other way, we were lost in a blinding spray and a warfare of noises such as you get being towed through an automatic car wash. The wipers stood up and lay down across the windshield without much effect. I was exhausted, and after an hour I slept more deeply.

I'd known all along exactly what was going to happen. But the man and his wife woke me up later, denying it viciously.

"Oh-no!"

"NO!"In a minute the driver, who'd been slumped over the wheel, sat up and peered at us. His face was smashed and dark with blood. It made my teeth hurt to look at him--but when he spoke, it didn't sound as if any of his teeth were broken.

"What happened?"

"We had a wreck," he said...

Product Details

ISBN:
9780312428747
Author:
Johnson, Denis
Publisher:
Picador USA
Subject:
Short Stories (single author)
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Stories (single author)
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20090231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
144
Dimensions:
8.26 x 5.53 x 0.385 in

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Jesus' Son Sale Trade Paper
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Product details 144 pages Picador USA - English 9780312428747 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Reading these stories is like reading ticker tape from the subconscious."
"Review" by , "[Johnson] is doing something deeply new in these stories, and the formal novelty brings us into a new intimacy with the violence that is rising around us in this country like the killing waters of a flood."
"Review" by , "These tales are told with...a kind of grinding realism which would suggest that these events are as purposeless as they seem. But at heart Johnson is a metaphysician, and through the luminous windows that startlingly open in the deadpan prose..."
"Review" by , "Johnson has the distinction of being both a poet and a novelist of gritty realism who uses language like a paring knofe to slice through to the bones of his subject matter....[These stories] are as muscular and tight as a washboard stomach, as resonant as a drum."
"Review" by , "A work of spare beauty and almost religious intensity."
"Review" by , "The narrator of these interlinked stories is a young man, reeling from his addiction to heroin and alcohol, his mind at once clouded and made gorgeously lucid by these drugs. Dreams blur into real life for this man, hallucinations mimic and merge with reality: a state of affairs that gives Mr. Johnson ample opportunity to display his dazzling gift for poetic language, his natural instinct for metaphor and wordplay."
"Review" by , "Set in the Midwest and West, these aggressively grim stories are linked by a common narrator — a young, nameless substance abuser of unspecified background and education. Like the other marginal and directionless individuals who populate these tales, he is locked into a downward spiral of booze, drugs, and petty crime, the squalor of his life emblematic of a more profound spiritual malaise. The best pieces — like 'Beverly Home,' which concerns a recovering addict who spies on a Mennonite couple through their bedroom window, and 'Car Crash While Hitchhiking,' which is exactly what the title implies — balance longing with despair, revealing the yearning for a kind of meaning ultimately lost to these lives. Johnson writes with hallucinatory brilliance, giving these stories a nightmarish edge."
"Synopsis" by ,
Jesus' Son is a visionary chronicle of dreamers, addicts, and lost souls. These stories tell of spiraling grief and trancendence, of rock bottom and redemption, of getting lost an dfound and lost again. The raw beauty and careening energy of Denis Johnson's prose has earned this book a place among the classics of twentieth-century American literature.

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