Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson (1992)

Denis Johnson died a few days ago (July 1, 1949 to May 24, 2017).  Denis Johnson has often been called "a writer's  writer".   Reading the many memorial articles occasioned by his passing (of liver cancer) he was idolized as someone from whom you could learn how to write fiction.   In the 100 or so Q and A sessions I have done on The Reading Life I always asked each participant what short story writers they admired.  Denis Johnson was very frequently mentioned by the largely Irish writers involved.  I have long had Jesus's Son to my TBR list, sadly it took his death to motivate me to read this amazing work, actually at least as good as the many panegyrics claimed.  

The work consists of eleven short stories, all narrated by a recovering drug addict known only as "Fuckhead". Fuckhead lives in rural America, some say these are very American stories but there is a reason the Irish love them so much, he works at a series of jobs, most memorably as a hospital orderly.  He engages in petty crimes, has romances with women equally addicted.  

This is a terribly funny book, laughing at the horrors and absurdity of the world in which Fuckhead resides.  There are dead end bars, almost everybody dies young, fifty is ancient for a drug addict.  When persons from the "straight" world appear they are presented as ridiculous, like the employees of the hospital in which Fuckhead worked for a while.  Alcohol is the mother's milk of these stories.  Fuckhead and his transient friends are self destructive, some would call them idiots.

These stories are written from Desolation Row.  They are beautiful, the turns in the story are amazing.  I read one article by a writer  who said he had read Jesus's Son over 200 times.  

The title comes from Lou Reed's song "Heroin", I suggest you listen to it as an accompaniment to your reading.  The rush of heroin is a driving force in these stories.

A movie was made based on the stories.  The New Yorker link above contains three podcasts of stories from Jesus's Son.

Mel u

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