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.