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Jesus’s Son by Denis Johnson

November 4, 2013


This is a collection of short stories about addicts, criminals and deadbeats. Wanderers and misfits. It is minimalist in its language but seems to carry some heft in between the lines. Likewise, although only a few of the stories stand out to me after finishing the book, the collection as a whole holds together well. The stories wander off and rarely return, like lost threads that overlap to build an atmosphere. Though not as powerful as Johnson’s Train Dreams, Jesus’s Son contains enough great writing to be worth the read. Here are a couple passages I marked:

People entering the bars on First Avenue gave up their bodies. Then only the demons inhabiting us could be seen. Souls who had wronged each other were brought together here. The rapist met his victim, the jilted child discovered its mother. But nothing could be healed, the mirror was a knife dividing everything from itself, tears of false fellowship on the bar. And what are you going to do to me now? With what, exactly, would you expect to frighten me?

Not all the people living at Beverly Home were old and helpless. Some were young but paralyzed. Some weren’t past middle age but were already demented. Others were fine, except that they couldn’t be allowed out on the street with their impossible deformities. They made God look like a senseless maniac.

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