Some books are unforgettable. This one is indelible. Denis Johnson’s short stories don’t quite start, and they don’t quite end. They’re connected, but just how they fit together is unclear. Addiction is front and center in most of the stories, but this isn’t a cautionary tale, or at least not quite. There is a distinctive lack of authorial judgement of the decisions made and the impulses indulged. Questions about how to regard the book, its characters, or its subtle meanings may arise after you’ve finished it, but I doubt you’ll have time to contemplate them while reading; you’ll be too busy trying to catch your breath. Recommended By Keith M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life, and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. Set in the Midwest and West, they are narrated by a young man, an alcoholic and heroin addict, whose dependencies have led him to petty crime, cruelty, betrayal, and various kinds of loss. Many of them are centered around the Vine, a bar in an Iowa town where the narrator meets his friends and forms alliances "based on something erroneous, some basic misunderstanding that hadn't yet come to light."
In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close, the stories in Jesus' Son offer a disturbing yet eerily beautiful portrayal of American loneliness and hope.
"Reading these stories is like reading ticker tape from the subconscious." Marianne Wiggins, The Nation
"[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." Atlantic Monthly
"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..." Madison Smartt Bell, USA Today
"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." People
"A work of spare beauty and almost religious intensity." Entertainment Weekly
"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." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
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.