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The Name of the World

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  1,462 ratings  ·  130 reviews
The acclaimed author of Jesus' Son and Already Dead returns with a beautiful, haunting, and darkly comic novel. The Name of the World is a mesmerizing portrait of a professor at a Midwestern university who has been patient in his grief after an accident takes the lives of his wife and child and has permitted that grief to enlarge him.

Michael Reed is living a posthumous lif
Paperback, 144 pages
Published April 14th 2001 by Harper Perennial (first published 2000)
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The protagonist of this slim novel, Michael Reed, is currently a history professor in a Midwestern college. His wife and young daughter have died in an auto wreck. He’s somewhat numb. He meets a young (20ish) woman who is, well, exotic. Her ‘name’ is Flower Cannon. He’s drawn to her but not sure exactly why; maybe sexually but not exactly. The plot gets a little dreamy. He winds up with her ‘at her place’ which is like an abandoned school away from anywhere else. She asks him, unexpectedly, “Wou ...more
Alex V.
Denis Johnson took the flattest of dull, male fantasies - the flailing, lonley professor gets in a spell-casting match with the wild, arty, enigmatic co-ed - and managed to fold it into mental origami, sense and even time folding back on itself into a flower. It is about a girl named Flower, in fact, and he makes that work, too. The creases in his folding of reality don't exactly line up at the end and the resulting flower of a story is shimmeringly and organically imperfect for it. And its just ...more
This novella reads like an extension to Jesus' Son, Johnson's volume of short stories. It is a return to the spiritual geography of the Middle West. The characters are off kilter and damaged--strangers even to themselves. The plot turns more and more unhinged (without feeling too causation dependent). And still, this book made me laugh several times.

One of Johnson's genius strengths is to make very dissimilar themes seem suddenly inseparable. He has a poet's sense of movement, and a child's del
i really liked johnson's description of college life, especially since it is from an outsiders POV. it has been a long time since I had read something that just keep me going on the writing alone w/out the story pulling me along.

that said, the final flower cannon scene in the book is a total mistake and letdown. in fact, the whole character of flower is a cliche and doesn't fit in here in this spare book that is only vulgar and obvious when she is around. otherwise, it's fresh and exact and wor
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jason Lewis
Jul 06, 2007 Jason Lewis rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: old men, young girls
Oblique in that great Denis Johnson way, but not hipster prophetic like Jesus' Son. Older, sheltered man who's experienced a loss has a moment in time in a college town. Interesting turn in the narrative focus 2/3s of the way through, great, compelling, engrossing scenes, but the ending falters a little and doesn't pay off the way that the book wanted it to. Love it though, warts and all. Made me want to keep reading and I was involved with the characters.
Sandy Jiang
I was actually disappointed. I felt like this author is one of those hit or miss and for me it was a huge miss. Not only did it lack a plot but I disliked the characters. it had a very Farewell to Arms feeling- 2 people who get together but it's like just conversations and them just hanging out but no driving thing that makes each character grow and change and then conclusion, and maybe it's I hate stories where there are no developments but these characters really had no development as the book ...more
Erinn Batykefer
Okay, so The Name of the World is basically a classic hero's journey -- call to action, resistance to call, aid from the supernatural (in this case Flower Cannon), resurrection and rebirth. It's set in an unnamed Midwestern town, at an unnamed Midwestern university, and the protagonist, Mike Reed, is one of those do-nothing professors at the end of his appointment: a white, middle-class man of privilege with the luxury of wallowing in his own grief over his family's death. Flower Cannon is an ar ...more
The only reason this book is not on my Abandoned book shelf is that it was only 120 pages long and easy to hold when I read it while on the treadmill. Reading "The Name of the World" made me realize how dependent I have become on PLOT. The faint plot here is: what is to become of a bereaved widower as he completes his four-year teaching assignment at a non-descript (of course) Midwestern college. Even the book's black humor is only a very pale grey. When the main character, Michael Reed, stumble ...more
it wouldn't be claiming too much to say that as i sat there holding in my fingers mr. hicks's list of head-injury victims i felt the stirring even of parts of me that had been dead since childhood, that sense of the child as a sort of antenna stuck in the middle of an infinite expanse of possibilities. and childhood's low-grade astonishments, its intimations of a perpetual circus... meeting, at random, kids with small remarkable talents or traits, with double-jointed thumbs, a third or even a fo ...more
Stacey Falls
a lovely book where nothing really happens. full of poetry and overflowing with love for the world. our narrator begins to pull himself out of his lowest lows. still in the throes of desperate sadness, he comes to the point where he begins to feel again. in that way the pain is healing.

pain can be your salvation. suffering is a reminder of all the joys available to experience. that feels like a good lesson for me right now.

one question i have for anyone who has read the book: why is flower's st
There are two decent short stories buried in "The Name of the World" - one about an amateur stripper contest at a low-rent casino in the Midwest, and one about a middle-aged man's erotic encounter with a mesmerizing (but in reality utterly impossible) art student half his age. Both are the kind of vivid, gritty, vaguely stoned narratives at which Johnson excels. Unfortunately, he ties them together with an indifferently written novella about an emotionally detached adjunct teacher in an unnamed ...more
Chris Gager
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Denis Johnson staat bekend als een kameleon omdat elk boek weer totaal anders is dan al zijn andere, en als een beestachtig goede stilist die helaas veel te weinig wordt gelezen. Ik ken zelf ook lang niet al zijn boeken, maar wel zijn overweldigend-groteske Vietnamboek "The tree of smoke", ruim 600 geniale en ongehoord spectaculaire bladzijden dik, en de prachtige novelle "Traindreams", krap 90 verstilde bladzijden die rijker zijn dan menige roman. Sterker nog, er staan zinnen in die beter zijn ...more
A story of a college professor's last year at college in the midwest,while trying to get over the death of his wife and daughter, finds himself lusting hard over a hot and pertentiuos redhead art student . I have a thing for redheads but found myself liking Flower but not loveing her, like it be fun to have a fling with her but she would bring too much drama to the table, I tend to date women like Flower,if it weren't for pertenious baristas I'd never get laid.
David Schwan
Beautifully written book. The main character is overcoming the death of his wife and daughter four years earlier. He is a faculty member at a college hoping to be employed for another year. His career has been mostly ordinary except a period as a staff member for a notorious US Senator. He meets a much younger women--a lady with a unique personal story. The two are like ships passing in the night.
Jen Shipon
Constantly gobsmacked by the beautiful, delicate language. Denis is a master of articulating the tiniest feelings and sensations in ways that make the reader feel them intimately, even if s/he has never experienced that particular emotion before. This is why I don't even care where his books go - although they always do end up somewhere.
Started off a bit slower than Jesus' Son and at first I didn't think I liked this book as much, but, then in came some of Johnson's amazingly beautiful prose and all was good in the world. This guy is magic!!
This was my first Denis Johnson novel -- I thought I'd start with a short one before diving into something like "Tree of Smoke."

It's the story of a burned-out, middle-aged professor at an unnamed Midwestern university still dealing with the loss of his wife and child several years earlier in a car accident. It's not an academic satire, though there are some funny/scathing observations. I was afraid it was going to turn into the cliche of nubile young student banishes demons of schlubby older ma
I'm feeling ambivalent on this one. On the one hand, the writing style took a while to draw me in, even though the book is short it took me forever to pick up a good pace with it because the language didn't come easily into my brain for some reason. On the other hand, the descriptions of how the main character, Mike, feels were completely accurate and made even more beautiful and haunting by how they were brought to light through Mike's viewing of art and interacting with random characters. Plus ...more
Jonathan Adams
I find myself floating in a surprisingly deep well of thought after reading this slim work. Johnson is a master of prose. Of internal emotional expression. With equal potency, his work grapples with pain and loss in a way I've rarely encountered. There is a patience here. An understanding of tragedy and the cruelty of life that is redemptive and beautiful in its bracing honesty and refusal to provide answers. His stories grip while remaining elusive, and The Name of the World is no exception. I' ...more
This was a curious little novella, with a protagonist numbed by grief whose defining trait seems to be that he doesn't really want anything, and the barest thread of plot to draw the reader through. The supporting characters are interesting (especially Flower), and there are little treasures of language that kept me digging. I think the conceit wouldn't have worked much longer than the 129 pages Johnson gives it, but in that small space he does make you root for Michael Reed, make you hope that ...more
Jeff Rowe
I read this right after "Jesus' Son" which was great. Where did the underbelly-of-society mojo go that he used so well? This is a story about the travails of a non-tenured faculty at a university in the midwest. He lost his wife and daughter and so he's pretty understandably bummed about that. But then he gets full on infatuated with a young art student. Snore. The ending was a huge letdown, especially since this guy really knows how to write and exhibits many clever turns of the phrase. Too bad ...more
The Name of the World
Denis Johnson

HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022, 2000

The Name of the World by Denis Johnson is essentially about a washed up college professor, Michael Reed, aimlessly wandering through life four years after the death of his wife and daughter. He has seemed to have lost his lust for life and is just going through the motions. What ensues is a very fluid and unique storyline.
At first it is hard to get used to the writing style of this piece
On a road trip recently, I listed to a New Yorker Fiction podcast of Salvatore Scibona reading Denis Johnson's story "Two Men." I have read a few short stories of Denis Johnson's and, for what it's worth, love the movie "Jesus' Son." I have been wanting to read more D.J., even more so after I heard the reading of Two Men, which not only had me riveted from start to finish - but has stayed with me. This book was one of two that we have at home by this author (along with Tree of Smoke), and I admi ...more
A rambling novella concerning the first-person life of one Michael Reed, an adjunct professor-cum-journalist who's lost his daughter and wife in a car crash and who now obsesses over a twenty-six year old stripper/student named Flower Cannon.

My first Denis Johnson. Good storytelling -- language doesn't always roll me but the actions, honesty, occasional darkness, do. Looking forward to the next one.

"I wouldn't say I was infatuated. I had noticeable but manageable feelings for her, helpless lust
Short. It has enough going on to propel me quickly through it. At this time all my reads, all my reviews are about or in oblique reference to Correction.

Another review thought Flower Cannon was a shallow hippy chick typical of what modern male writers are fond of creating as their substitute Eve or a full portrait of a woman. Also, they thought that Johnson doesn't write female characters very well. Flower may be guilty as charged but Johnson if necessary can write females. Witness the woman in
This book is about a professor of history, Mike Reed, at an unnamed Midwestern college. Four years after the death of his wife and daughter, he is still among the walking dead. The story recounts his awareness of how lost he is, and the unusual and, well, depressing events that unfold to bring him back. Being pretty lost myself these days, I almost didn't finish the the book. But the writing is so good, I kept going. He loses his job at the university and decides to leave town. He goes so far as ...more
There were occasional interesting observations concerning fear and history. I liked the idea that any fear--even fear of the unknown--presumes that our world is predictable and that variations on past horrors will happen again; embracing unpredictability, though irrational and insane, is in its own way liberating.

So there were things to be liked.

But the character of Flower Cannon is one of the most heinous Manic Pixie Dream Girls I've ever encountered. She was okay for a while: I liked that she
a great short read.

i tended to like the form towards the beginning of the book, where scenes were separated by longish passages of internalization and no indication of a scene change, let alone time passing, was given.

the writing is beautiful, but what i love most is the exactness of his phrasing. maybe exactness isn't the right word, it sounds too sterile, but those moments in johnson's writings are anything but that. still, despite the lyrical, ethereal prose (very, very important to me), the
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Poet, playwright and author Denis Johnson was born in Munich, West Germany in 1949 and was raised in Tokyo, Manila and Washington. He holds a masters' degree from the University of Iowa and has received many awards for his work, including a Lannan Fellowship in Fiction (1993), a Whiting Writer's Award (1986), the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from the Paris Review for Train Dreams, and most recently, ...more
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“When I reached the street I didn't know whether to go right or left. Soon I'd have to start acting like a person who cared about what happened to him.” 8 likes
“...I felt the stirring even of parts of me that had been dead since childhood, that sense of the child as a sort of antenna stuck in the middle of an infinite expanse of possibilities. ” 5 likes
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