It seems that reading, like most other things, is one of those pleasures that overtime can become a little bit uninspiring. After having been taken in by the reading bug and spending years devouring book after book, I feel as though I have reached a point where it seems as though I have read all the books I want to read. Of course I haven’t but it still takes something special to get me to read, especially when other options, like TV shows, movies, or sports, are so much easier to simply switch on and tune out to.
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson is the kind of book that the jaded reader that I am needed to rekindle my love of literature. This is a book that is a collection of short stories all told from the perspective of our usually unnamed narrator. They deal with relationships and the world in a way that is often shocking but which never fail to infuse the reader with the promise of poetry and gentleness.
In a way these stories from an American male author could easily be bracketed into those that follow the well-trodden path beaten by Charles Bukowski. There are certainly similarities here, in the drinking and the predominance of women, but Johnson is a more gentle soul than Old Buk and his style is less abrasive and more full of wonder than that of the grizzly old post office worker.
There is an other worldly feel to many of the stories here and the writing doesn’t force the reader into any decisions or opinions about the things that are going on. Instead, there is almost a sense of helplessness abounding throughout the prose with the sensation being that thew writer would in fact appreciate some help from the reader in order to make sense of his own confusing world.
There is probably something more similar here to the master of American short stories, Raymond carver, than there is to Bukowski. There is very little anger expressed here, just mere observation and reflection on the way live seems to work itself out around the main character.
Things often don’t make sense in these stories. A man is stabbed in the eye by his wife but neither dies nor loses his sight. The narrator and his friend get lost and fear themselves sure to die only to discover that they have instead being riding round in circles all night. Life happens in all it ugliness and beauty and Johnson asks you to help him deal with that.
As with most short story collections, this book does lose some of its cohesiveness later on but the opening stories are excellent and this is definitely a must read book for those who are longing for something to remind them of why it is they love to read. Johnson is certainly not the world’s greatest writer, nor would he probably ever claim to be, but this collection will make you feel, think, and wonder.
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- Barry Hannah on Denis Johnson’s Book Jesus’ Son (biblioklept.org)