Thursday, 28 June 2012

Jesus’ Son: Stories by Denis Johnson (4/5)

The back says: Jesus’s Son is a visionary chronicle of dreamers, addicts, and lost souls. These stories tell of spiraling grief and transcendence, of rock bottom and redemption, of getting lost and found and lost again. The raw beauty and careening energy of Denis Johnson’s prose has earned this book among the classics of twentieth-century American literature.

I say: I always say the same thing at the beginning of all reviews of short story collections; that I find it hard to write reviews. However, this time it’s not so difficult because all these stories were about the same person, only referred to as "Fuckhead," and so became like frenzied chapters in his life of alcohol, narcotics, violence, accidents and criminality.

Over and over again.

And that’s pretty much what these stories feel like; as if moving in a circle of addiction, fights, dreams of doing better, random happenings, and back again to the addiction. Or maybe we never actually leave the addiction. Through the narrators eyes we see different characters and scenarios, but the one thing that brings them all together is the desire to be somewhere else; whether spoken out loud or a subtlety beneath the words.

It made me uncomfortable and compassionate all in one go.

What I really like is Johnson’s stark prose; unapologetic but without a sense of melodrama. There’s no introduction, we’re just flung straight into this world and left to our own devices – voyeurs of something abysmal and captivating – and somewhere in this naked portrait of broken people I find a sense of beauty and purpose.

A few of these stories will stay with me for some time to come, and I look forward to reading more of Johnson’s work.

Favourite stories: Car Crash While Hitchhiking, Emergency, Steady Hands at Seattle General, Beverly Home.

*This is my fifth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my 100 Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

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