Friday, October 12, 2007

"Jesus' Son" by Denis Johnson

A friend of mine told me that Denis Johnson had a new book out. I said, "Who?" He said, "!!!" I took it that Denis Johnson was someone I should know. I went to a bookstore and picked up a book of his called, Jesus' Son. When I realized that the title was a reference to a Lou Reed lyric, I decided I would bring it home. And what a little bruiser I've let enter my mind. The book is intense. It reads like Bukowski, but lyrical, and stripped of the false bravado Bukowski pretended to hate. The guy is good for lots of pretty little turns of phrase: "The green silence after the hailstorm" "Under a sky as blue and brainless as the love of God." The writing is compact and intense and pulls beauty out of the muck, but takes only small pieces of it, slowly, one at a time so the overall mood can be sustained and stay intact. My favorite paragraph in the book:
"I'd been staying at the Holiday Inn with my girlfriend, honestly the most beautiful woman I'd ever known, for three days under a phony name, shooting heroin. We made love in the bed, ate steaks at the restaurant, shot up in the john, puked, cried, accused one another, begged of one another, forgave, promised, and carried one another to heaven."

It's always great when a writer of the so-called "tough literature" is not afraid to use commas instead of fragments. This guy reminds you of a lot of different writers, which only makes you remember that he's not quite like any of them.

A neo-pulp classic, that's supposed to have been been based on the stations of the cross, this book will get you drunk on the towering bigness of the sadly beautiful smallness of American life...and you can't not like this book a lot.

If I ever start a band, I'm going to name it after his story, "Dirty Wedding", and oh...we will ROCK!


angelle said...

i really really love this book. i don't always understand EVERYTHING, but it's really wonderful, especially because it is so different in style and content. i love the progression of stories from "car crash" when he gets into the hospital as a patient to the very end when he's now helping in the hospital as a worker.

as i've mentioned on my blog before, i'm DYING to read tree of smoke (his new book) but it's like 800 pages and in hardback and i just don't think i can carry around a tome like that right now. i'm trying hard to hold off.

moonrat said...

hey! you didn't give it a rating label.

Lisa said...

I read this collection back in June and I loved it. I still cannot get the image of the one character's wife hang gliding out of my mind. These are amazing stories and the prose is far more artfully done than Bukowski. Coincidentally, I just ordered Tree of Smoke yesterday.

Live@theGrouchoClub said...

Sorry Moonrat...I can't decide what to rate it yet. It's one of those books where you need to walk around with it inside of you for a while before you're really sure how you feel.

moonrat said...

haha ok. fair enough.

Lisa said...

I vote it's an excellent. But it's your review, so if you don't think it's excellent, I'll review it and give it an excellent ;)