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Train Dreams

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  8,281 ratings  ·  1,205 reviews
Der Tagelöhner Robert Grainier, 1886 im Norden Amerikas geboren, muss im Laufe seines langen Lebens mit ansehen, wie sich die Welt um ihn herum verändert: Die Technik hält Einzug in den Alltag der Menschen und fordert ihre Opfer. Als Grainier seine Familie verliert, gerät seine Welt vollends aus den Fugen.
Paperback, 109 pages
Published July 2006 by Rowohlt Taschenbuch (first published 2002)
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Best Westerns
113th out of 624 books — 833 voters
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Best Books of 2011 - The Critics' Choices
45th out of 97 books — 111 voters

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Community Reviews

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God needs the hermit in the woods as much as He needs the man in the pulpit.’

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, a novella shortlisted as a ‘Best Book of 2011’ by almost everyone from the New York Times to Esquire, and also considered for the Pulitzer, is a haunting little book that blossoms from the vine of American history. Spanning from the turn of the 20th century up until the late 60s, Johnson positions the reader to watch as the American west is transfigured by the technological growth of the n
I finished this book a few days ago and still it haunts me. During and shortly after reading it I got frustrated by all the apparent symbolism that I couldn't for the life of me put together. But stepping back and thinking about it from a non-intellectual point of view, it is just an evocative and gorgeously written book. Much of the writing is very simple and matter-of-fact, but then without you really noticing it he transitions into a very beautiful and poetic passage. There are three such pas ...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Owing to the fact that I have read the semi-autobiographical short story collection Jesus' Son a few times (and you should absolutely do that), I had a wrong-headed assumption about the subject matter of this novella. Based partly on the title, I figured this would be a more modern take on the same territory in JS, of the grim realities and screwed up interpersonal dynamics of off the grid types, namely junkies and alcoholics who haven't done their taxes in a decade and smell like cigarettes, pa ...more
Mike Puma

A solid story, sad and satisfying, one which might, initially, provoke feelings of déjà vu in those who’ve read A Prayer for the Dying.

An American mountain man, stoic and self-sufficient, enjoys an all too brief period of love and intimacy before tragedy and loss impose, and he’s left to fend for and only for himself. Johnson’s gentle prose resists a stereotype, rendering the protagonist credible and admirable. The inevitable wolf-girl scene defies belief but situates the story in a mythic trad

Early in this novella, but not in his chronological life, Robert Grainier feels obliged to help fellow workers grab a Chinese laborer, working in the Pacific Northwest, and throw him off a span of bridge into a gorge below. They are ultimately unsuccessful, but Death is not denied otherwise in the life of Grainier. In fact, everyone he meets seems to have a sorry end.

The story of this man (this Country?) is told in sepia-toned, non-linear vignettes. His Asian adventure (if you want to read somet
Diane S.
As a small child he arrived on a train and later would not have a clear understanding of where he came from or what his background was. For a time, as an adult he would make a living from trains, clearing the trees so more tracks could be laid, a necessity as more and more people moved West. It is the early twentieth century and great changes are taking place in the United States. Yet for the most part the West was a raw and hard place for a man to make a life and raise a family.

Told in a spare
I could not sync up with this story, expected something much bleaker. There didn't seem to be room for the inclusion of the mysterious secrets of Moya Valley and the main character's bent toward howling with the wolves at night. There was certainly nothing wrong with the writing, the tale simply did not click with me.
This novella is a work of great magical story telling. A story that will lay for some time in your thoughts, of novella length but holds depth and meaning more than many nine hundred page novels out there now. I can't stress enough on how you must read this. If I ever one day i write a novella I aspire and dream to write with this quality and craftsmanship.

The main protagonist is a man of good virtue he is on the straight and narrow, due to many things he has witnessed and taking account of. One
Há certos livros que, logo à primeira linha, nos aprisionam dentro deles.
Aí nos mostram outro mundo, outra época, outra gente, outras vidas tão distantes da nossa e, simultaneamente, tão perto pelas suas tristezas, pelos seus desejos e, acima de tudo, pelo manter dos sonhos, que alimentam a capacidade de sobrevivência do ser humano.
No fim, libertam-nos deixando-nos o coração em cacos.

Roubo, para aqui, a opinião do Luis Miguel que, tal como eu, teve a sorte de "tropeçar" em Denis Johnson:
switterbug (Betsey)
Denis Johnson won an O. Henry prize for this novella of the old American West in 2003. It originally appeared in the Paris Review but is now reissued and bound in hardback with an apt cover art—a painting by Regionalist Thomas Hart Benton called “The Race.” If you contemplate the painting for a while, you may feel the ghost of the book’s protagonist, Robert Grainier, as he, too, felt the ghosts and spirits of the dead.

Robert Grainier is a man without a known beginning—at least, he didn’t know hi
This is one of those books that make me feel like a Failed Grown-Up, because it's been reviewed as an excellent literary read, and accomplished literary people confirm that it's an excellent literary read, and then I read it and I don't like it. I picked it up because it was one of the stories that the podcast Literary Disco was reviewing; when they turned out to love it, and I disliked it utterly, I began to wonder where I went wrong, or what I was missing (and, later, to wonder if maybe this w ...more
I was looking for a little piece of Americana in this novella, and Denis Johnson certainly delivered. It tells the story of Robert Granier, who's an everyday kind of guy, working in logging and bridge building in the early 20th Century. It's a sad story, since Granier lives, for the most part, a lonely (and long) life against the stunning backdrop of the Idaho Panhandle. Granier does experience love, but it's a love that is tragically cut short due to a raging fire that transforms the landscape ...more
Andrew Smith
I like to novellas, they feel a lesser undertaking than settling into a novel in its full form. For me it also opens up options I might spurn if I though I'd have to take on three hundred or more pages.

I first picked up this thin book at at a local bookstore - I was attracted by a single sentence as I briefly flicked through it. I didn't read the blurb or otherwise pre-acquainting myself with the tale to be told. I later bought the Kindle version. A mystery read, and a satisfying one. A strange
Everyone should stop whatever they are doing, put down whatever they are reading, right now, and read Train Dreams.
I mean it.
It's a novella, and a short one at that, so it'll only take you an hour or two.
So you really should read it now.
I see some of you still aren't reading it.
You there in the back!
The one smoking a joint.
And the other one with spots.
If you don't start reading it now I'll have all of you shot!
Sep 01, 2013 Garima rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Garima by: Nick
A perfect 'Once upon a time' story for adults.

An elaborate response would follow someday soon.
To start, I must admit that, once again, this is the kind of book I eat up to a certain degree. I don't want to say it's impossible for me to hate a book that takes place out west, the fabled chunk of the United States that I know as home, because I'm sure there are books of the area that I wouldn't like... I just haven't met them yet (thank god).

Train Dreams reflects on the life of Robert Grainier, who works on the railroads, forests, and roads of the Moyea Valley, rougly somewhere in the Idaho
As me and my better half perused the shelves of our local library, we came upon Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. Even though I hadn’t read any of Johnson’s works prior to, I had had the curiosity to check him out via my girlfriends’ mentioning of Jesus’ Son last year. As I flipped to the back page to look at the author’s picture (something I’m strangely accustomed to do), I see a man sitting with his back to the wall; with black-tinted sunglasses looking up to the heavens, sun-drenched, cool and c ...more

Novellas can often be underwhelming, there is so little time to be hooked by the narrative, to fall for the characters.

For a good half of this reading I was thinking small, small, small. Tiny splinters aggravating the surface of the imagination.

I think Grainer's wolf howling was the fulcrum and suddenly I was right there amid the charred wilderness, four walls and no roof.

Later as the years unfold and Grainer's bones fist and knot, none of it feels like dying. Some of what goes on stills read
I would say God bless Denis Johnson, but clearly he already has. This is a man with a tricky, multiple, ground-sniffing gift - a gift like a dog exploring a summer field. And yet the stories accumulate. There is no sense that we're ever lost, and I think a lot of this direction (or not direction so much as aggregation, like crystals glomming into a rock garden) has to do with DJ's utter commitment to the crannies of his story. Is this a cliche? Yes, it is, but like many writing cliches it deserv ...more
The life of Robert Grainier, in sum:

Grainier himself lived more than eighty years, well into the 1960s. In his time he'd traveled west to within a few dozen miles of the Pacific, though he'd never seen the ocean itself, and as far east as the town of Libby, forty miles inside Montana. He'd had one lover -- his wife, Gladys -- owned one acre of property, two horses, and a wagon. He'd never been drunk. He'd never purchased a firearm or spoken into a telephone. He'd ridden on trains regularly, many
Kevin O'Donnell
With trepidation I write my first review. The book hasn't "called" me to do so; I don't feel particularly motivated; there is no pretension that I will say something important.

It's an act in spite of myself. Selfishness of my conscience. I need an outlet, and books are fine prompts. I also often feel guilty when all I have to contribute after the effort of reading the thing is a single click to highlight some stars. Maybe this will assuage my discomfort, or I'll be ridiculed out of it. The plan
Can a man live through most of a century and not really be a part of it? The historical events that mark a century for history are wars, rise and fall of nations, political leaders, inventions, cultural shifts beginning with artists – they have virtually no impact on Robert Grainie in this novella. He lives an isolated existence that spans two thirds of the 20th century in the woods of the north Idaho Panhandle. His only connection with a larger world are the trains that rumble through the villa ...more
Alex V.
What a perfect little Western, a stiff wind blowing off the crags between man and nature conquering each other, and yet what an epic. Johnson is a genius at placing people in a waking dream - the drug scenarios of JESUS' SON, the tribal apocalypse of FISKADORO, Vietnam in TREE OF SMOKE, Bakersfield in NOBODY MOVE. TRAIN DREAMS places a version of Johnson's simple man in the lower echelons of the frontier, working train gangs, living in the woods with people he loves and then alone. Grainier's li ...more
Jason Coleman
Train Dreams was published in both The Paris Review and an O. Henry Award collection nearly a decade ago and has been available as a book in Europe, including translations in German and French, for many years now. I figured Johnson was holding it back in the States because he wanted to package a few other pieces with it and was just waiting for the proper critical mass. But now here it is. Makes me wonder if he’s at work on another large book and told his publisher he wouldn’t be handing anythin ...more
I think this is the future of the western, exploiting the isolation, not just through characters, but also from civilization and technology. This short searing stare into a man's soul is a true showing of high lonesome. Robert Grainier is a railroad man, a man worked to the bone and sinew. A man who loses it all and literally burns in the flames. At times Johnson's style is diaristic, other times it feels like a Native American folktale. Consider it an American wedding between Camus' Stranger an ...more
Contemporary composer John Adams has a set of pieces called "Road Movies." One of these pieces, especially as performed by Stephen Hough on piano, feels exactly like watching the telephone poles pass by in a car ride. "Train Dreams" reads like a set of dreams as one could have had during a train ride in the early years of American passenger train travel.

What really brought this to a five star rating was the dream Grainier had of his wife. I was reminded of Toni Morrison's "Beloved" and to equal
This book is the May read for our book club and while I just picked it up earlier this week, it's barely a whisper of a novella (at a little over 100 pages) and so, I'm already done with it.

And that, in the end, was the problem with the book for me. It was TOO short. I was too aware of its length for the entire duration of the book, finding myself at certain points thinking, "Why did he waste five pages on THAT character? HE DOESN'T HAVE FIVE PAGES TO WASTE". It was also one of those books that
Ted Mooney
Here, DJ, whose talents within the American idiom are so abundant that you never know whether his next book will break your heart or run completely amok, keeps a very tight rein on those talents and takes you exactly where he wants you to be. Super-compressed (116 pages), "Train Dreams" is absolutely solid from word to word--more muscular than his earlier work, less expressionistic (I like both modes)--sentence to sentence, beginning to end. He knows how to drive this vehicle, and it gets you th ...more
Jim Coughenour
There's a hard absence at the heart of this book, a story so stripped of emotion that it hurts your lungs. Robert Grainier lives pretty much his whole life alone in the remote Idaho panhandle. At one point Grainier is helping a teenager load cornmeal onto wagon when the boy drops dead, and a few minutes later he's helping load the boy himself onto the wagon, flopping the corpse up and over. "As for Grainier, he hadn't touched another person in several years, and even apart from the strangeness o ...more
Trixie Fontaine
Flawless, recognizable (if you come from where/who I come from), beautiful.

UNEXPECTED BONUS: was just griping to my mom how all the books that are thrown at us from NYC and the east coast in general come from people who are so distant and in such a different country that they don't understand how often people get their dicks sucked by calves (and other bestiality that happens with regularity outside of Manhattan). And she laughed and laughed and told me about how my great grandpa got caught with
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Deep, real reads: Train Dreams 1 4 Jul 28, 2013 12:20AM  
21st Century Lite...: Chapter 3 10 27 Jul 10, 2013 11:26PM  
21st Century Lite...: * Train Dreams General Comments (spoilers ALLOWED!) 72 69 Jul 04, 2013 03:56AM  
21st Century Lite...: Chapter 9 5 19 Jun 26, 2013 04:52AM  
21st Century Lite...: Train Dreams Chapter 1 28 60 Jun 25, 2013 01:42AM  
21st Century Lite...: Chapter 2 17 27 Jun 21, 2013 12:14AM  
21st Century Lite...: * The book as a whole 1 25 Jun 03, 2013 02:26AM  
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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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“It was only when you left it alone that a tree might treat you as a friend. After the blade bit in, you had yourself a war.” 13 likes
“But they hushed, all at once and quite abruptly, when he stood still at center stage, his arms straight out from his shoulders, and went rigid, and began to tremble with a massive inner dynamism. Nobody present had ever seen anyone stand so still and yet so strangely mobile. He laid his head back until his scalp contacted his spine, that far back, and opened his throat, and a sound rose in the auditorium like a wind coming from all four directions, low and terrifying, rumbling up from the ground beneath the floor, and it gathered into a roar that sucked at the hearing itself, and coalesced into a voice that penetrated into the sinuses and finally into the very minds of those hearing it, taking itself higher and higher, more and more awful and beautiful, the originating ideal of all such sounds ever made, of the foghorn and the ship’s horn, the locomotive’s lonesome whistle, of opera singing and the music of flutes and the continuous moanmusic of bagpipes. And suddenly it all went black. And that time was gone forever.” 9 likes
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