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4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  587 ratings  ·  66 reviews
From Holden Caulfield to Moses Herzog, our best literature has been narrated by malcontents. To this lineage add Peter Jernigan, who views the world with ferocious intelligence, grim rapture, and a chainsaw wit that he turns, with disastrous consequences, on his wife, his teenaged son, his dangerously vulnerable mistress—and, not least of all, on himself. This novel is a b ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 31st 1992 by Vintage (first published 1991)
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Pulitzer Prize Finalists
59th out of 68 books — 60 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,342)
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Apr 02, 2008 Bart rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of clever, self-congratulatory authors
Ultimately, this novel is a pretty fast read and fairly entertaining. But it has a lot of bad writing and a number of poor decisions by its author, David Gates.

Define bad writing? Sure. It's when the narrator's insecurity leads him to be needlessly intrusive. Here are some examples of bad writing in Jernigan:

I mean, at least I'd found out that this was a neighborhood where blacks weren't moving in, however you were supposed to feel about that. Uh-oh, no cultural diversity. Though in fact all I'd
Very funny, sad drunk-guy writing. Definitely part of a school, but in the front row.

there's some nimble plotting that makes the book more.
Some books you're just relieved to finish. Thank Odin, Zeus, the Buddha, whomever, for putting me across the finish line. Books like this are notoriously difficult to rate, so I'll leave the stars behind some mostly cloudy.

See, the old dilemma is this: What if you hate the protagonist? I mean, can't stand the guy? Does that sway your view of the book? Should it? I know you can argue that the book is BRILLIANT because the author is causing you to loathe his main character, but what if it has noth
Aug 30, 2007 Stephanie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who is willing to settle for a Catcher in the Rye wannabe
I am rounding Jernigan's rating down to a two and a half. This book rises and falls on its narrator and main character, Jernigan. Though the author was hoping to create an adult version of Holden from Catcher in the Rye, he did not succeed. Jernigan lacked whatever makes a reader sympathize with Holden. For most of the book, I found myself wishing that Jernigan would attempt the suicide that I was sure was inevitable so I could stop reading or at least get a new narrator.

With that extensive disc
Calling Peter Jernigan the anti-hero is just not enough. Sure the book is a story of Peter's decent after getting fed up with not only failure, but that the suburban life wasn't all what he expected. But there is way much more to it, and I can't even begin to explain it all. Each page I was taken back by not only the story but how I was getting drunk on the intensity of each character. No one really writes like david gates but most wish they could.
If you took John Updike and Richard Ford and gave them each a serious drinking problem then they would've probably come up with this bleak portrait of an American Father on the edge. At times shocking and touching, it nevertheless keeps you reading due to Gate's keen prose and razor sharp eye for detail. After finishing it you'll see why it was shortlisted for the Pulitzer.
This book is the darkest painting of suburbia I've read in awhile. If your life stinks, replace it with Jernigan's. Here's what you get----alcoholism, self-abuse, teenage son on drugs, shacking with mother of teenage son's girlfriend, death of wife, death of rabbits for food, loss of job, plus did I mention drinking large quanities of gin. Now why does this character continue to shot himself in the foot (or in his case hand)? Seems like he just doesn't give two hoots. What makes the book work th ...more
Peter Jernigan is a middle-aged malcontent with a dark, sharp sense of humor and a fondness for Star Trek TV episodes and almost continuous drinking. Living in New Jersey, he sees his drunken wife die in an auto accident and not too much later falls into a relationship with a woman, who has almost as many problems as he does, and her drug-using daughter. The novel by David Gates is funny but grim throughout with a chief character who not only is a disaster waiting to happen but a disaster that d ...more
I came across David Gates for the first time this year in the Best American Short Stories collection. It was a story titled ‘A Hand came down to guide me’. It’s a story about friendship between men with an eye to looking back over how a life is lived and how it might end. It’s good.

Then my friend Naomi recommended this novel which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 1991. It was Gates’ first published novel. In an interview, he says that Jernigan was an experiment. "I think what I wanted to do w
Marie Chow
Cut to the Chase:
A dark portrait of suburban life gone awry, Jernigan’s misery is due in equal parts to bad luck/unfortunate circumstance as well as chronically bad life choices on his part. Jernigan is self-deprecating, yet kind of a bully; he’s intelligent but completely underutilized; he’s psychologically damaged but also simultaneously aware and oblivious in a way that’s hard not to identify with. Though Jernigan is plagued with specific psychoses and vices (his bunny-killing lover, alcoholi
Je l'ai lu en entier, mais je n'ai pas aimé..
Déjà lu des livres déprimants, mais celui-ci m'a laissé vraiment une impression désagréable.
Je n'ai pas aimé non plus certains "tics d'écriture" de l'auteur comme : "J'ai bu 2 bières (donc comprendre 3, bien sûr)" ou "J'ai fait ceci (je blague)". La parenthèse pour commenter ce qu'on vient d'écrire...
I didn't really like Catcher in the Rye, but I figured it was because I was too old when I read it. This is supposed to be like an adult Catcher in the Rye, but I still didn't like it, so maybe it's me. I have a problem with books where I hate everyone in the story.
Like Catcher in the Rye (similar structurally, thematically, etc). Except instead of redemption, it ends in despair. There's one moment that's infused with a little hope. One. This isn't a criticism; it's an observation.

The last line is the coldest sentence I've ever read.
Jun 12, 2008 S. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: america, selected european suburbs
I picked this up on a whim at a book store. I'd never heard of the book or the author, but I guess there was a tempting blurb. In any case, great book about modern America. Plenty of despair and drinking. Quick read and good story-telling that is shocking in a low-key way.
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): Recently, at the urging of Nanci McCloskey, I began reading David Gates’ Jernigan. She tossed the book to me while packing for a business trip. I skimmed the jacket copy, my eyes widening. “Geez, Nanc, this is super dark and they kind of give it away in the description.” What startled me was something like this “chainsaw that he turns, with disastrous consequences, on his wife, his teenaged son, his dangerously vulnerable mistress—and, not least ...more
Jernigan is a selfish drunk who somehow, miraculously, interests me in his pathetic scrambling through his life by virtue of the writing talent of his creator, David Gates. I had no reason to like Jernigan, except he didn't like himself either, and he's funny. Those two qualities and the writing kept me with him to the last page, and I did wish I could find out what had become of him after that.
'Jernigan' tells the story of an alcoholic loser who manages to alienate and hurt the few people in his mediocre life that reach out to him, who may even love and/or need him; most notably his deceased wife, his son, his new girlfriend and her daughter. Not unintelligent - it is hinted he showed artistic talent as a younger man - he maintains a smug arrogance despite all his failings.
Incapable of showing empathy, he substitutes feeling with snide sarcasm. Jernigans's life's an accident waiting
A particularly harsh tale of suburban life gone bad. Somewhat reminiscent of Updike's "Rabbit, Run," but more of a Rabbit Angstrom in Hell. The whole tone of the book is set in the scene where Jernigan loads up on Pamprin and gin and shoots himself in the hand just to feel the pain. Jernigan's life is a total wash-out. His son is immersed in his own heavy metal, and his son's girlfriend is sullen and living with memories of a father who sexually abused her. Jernigan, who falls in love with the g ...more
Great portrait of a modern father, widow who starts to take risks in his life not because he is courageous but because he has nothing to lose. And the reader ends up having compassion for Jernigan because he narrates his journey with unflinching emotional truth. Throughout the book, we want to urge him to get some sleep, stop drinking, talk to his son. We want to push this guy into doing the right thing. And when he does, on occasion, like cutting down a Christmas tree with his son, it is heartb ...more
Nov 05, 2007 Michael rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: a person who is an alcohol and shot themselves in their hand to see what it felt like
I read about this book in a McSweeney's article about Literature being depressing, not uplifting. It mentioned 2 books in the article Exley's A Fan's Note and Jernigan by David Gates. A Fan's Note was really really good and it took me a while to get into Jernigan for some reason. He would seem like a really unsympathetic character, but for some reason he's so fucked up and at the same time his humor is so off-hand, that he's an interesting character. You find yourself thinking the same things he ...more
Old Dad (the Wandering O'Jernigan) isn't just a flawed character. He's more of a giant flaw with some character stuck to him like flecks of a drill sargeant's spittle. He's so whole-heartedly, thoroughly and unapologetically an asshole, a literary fuck who can't help but to throw his cleverness in your face at every opportunity. He self-destructs with willful abandon and it's a pleasure to watch.

He is identical in every way to Gates' other character, Willis. I hope to god these books aren't comp
Peter Knox
Suburban sadness, but this disquiet does not stay very quiet. Similar to The Sportswriter or Revolutionary Road or Stoner, it's a short novel of unhappy relationships, stalled careers, addiction, money, pain, and soaked in too much booze. Written from rehab, it's an honest self-aware clever strong voice of one man's downfall, with many ups and downs throughout. It hooked me and took me along for the abuse that came with the journey. Suggested if you find yourself in the right mood, as the writin ...more
I disliked this book, though I thought it was well-written, for what it was, which was a portrait of an irredeemable person. Aside from the painful-comic aspects of the book, I have trouble understanding why authors, especially gifted ones, want to spend their creative energy glorifying the worst in human impulses, instead of trying to find a path for their characters to grow in some way from the beginning to the end of a story. Maybe this is a prissy attitude on my part, but I can't help feelin ...more
I heard this compared to the film American Beauty, but this is much darker. Kevin Spacey smoking a joint in the garage does not compare to this narrator's descent into self-destructive alcoholism (if you can even call it a "descent" since there is really no point in the story in which he doesn't seem to have a serious drinking problem). Depressing as it may sound, it's also a quick read, and pretty hard to put down. Certainly, it's not for everyone, but if you can handle a bit of ugliness in you ...more
Sean Beaudoin
This is a fantastically self-loathing book that fits firmly in Fred Exley's A Fan's Notes oeuvre. Very funny, very honest, very depressing. I am not one of those people who feels a narrator has to be likable, and Jernigan is certainly not on most levels. But the way Gates is able to get inside his head is remarkable, making his behavior entirely understandable, if not easy to empathize with. This is a book well worth reading, particularly by other authors trying to get a better handle on realist ...more
I had trouble finding what saving grace this book may have earned for being a valuable part of our culture. A story of alcoholism and a character with no redeeming qualities. Picked it up because it was mentioned in an article about the Possum Living family, but the tie-in is a loose back story that provides the basis for Jernigan's decent into madness through it lack of any relationship or social skills.
Charles Adkinson
I really enjoyed this book but my lord was it dark. It seems odd to me that this was a Pulitzer finalist, simply because I don't really get the impression it was about America or a time in history, but more of a brief character study about a raging alcoholic. Similar to Catcher in the Rye in ways, especially in that the voice was terrific. I'd recommend it if you're already in a bad mood.
Mark Pothier
I don't know where I've been to have never yet read David Gates, but "Jernigan" should become a classic. Our hero is caustically witty, erudite, still capable of experiencing his own suffering, and can beautifully articulate the deep-veining feelings middle aged men hold for their teen sons. In other words: Jernigan is valuable company. I've put Gates' other books on my "To Read" heap.
Tom Leland
Fave part: when it mentions old tv ad campaign of mine for Mandee stores! Over the edge desperation of main character not crafted in way that would elicit enough of reader's sympathy to make story as poignant as say, Catcher in the Rye
Gerry LaFemina
The somewhat fractured narrative of a drunk coming to terms with the wreckage of his and his girlfriend's lives. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, always compellingly written, even though, in the end, I loathed most of the characters in the book, the fact that I did says something about the writing.
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David Gates podcast 1 7 Jul 09, 2013 07:12AM  
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David Gates is an American journalist and author. He teaches in the graduate writing program at The University of Montana.
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