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Jesus' Son

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  17,671 ratings  ·  1,262 reviews
Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life unmatched in power and immediacy and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close to our own, the stories in Jesus' Son of ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published December 15th 1993 by Harper Perennial (first published 1992)
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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot DíazJesus' Son by Denis JohnsonInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa LahiriBirds of America by Lorrie MooreOrchard of Dust by Brian Edward Bahr
Best Reading for the Contemporary Writer
2nd out of 82 books — 169 voters
Nine Stories by J.D. SalingerThe Complete Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan PoeA Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'ConnorDubliners by James JoyceThe Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Collections of Short Stories
117th out of 1,898 books — 1,449 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Steve Sckenda
Apr 18, 2015 Steve Sckenda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Steve by: New York Times
Break your addiction to respectability. Venture outside your protective cocoon and spend a few hours inside the hazy hash-bubble of a VW with the heroin addicts of “Jesus’ Son.”

Have you ever ripped copper wire out of a new house for $20 worth of scrap? Avoided any form of work because it messed with your high? Cheated with a bride a day after her wedding? Argued over a quarter (25 cents, not a quarter-ounce) with a man who could pulverize you? Cashed the social security checks of the dead? Lust
Aug 27, 2008 Ellen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ellen by: Bob
Shelves: alltimefaves
I once fell in love with a man just because he recommended this book to me. He had a glass eye and fingernails with with half moons of crust lodged underneath, thick and dark as coffee grounds. He was living covertly and temporarily for about four years in one of those storage units out by the interstate, and I would sometimes go see him when I wanted to get high or feel better about my life. At some point he died when they blew up a bridge to build a dam, and he happened to be sleeping undernea ...more
Posted at Shelf Inflicted

I wasn’t sure if I would like this collection of loosely connected stories about a young guy who is addicted to drugs, sometimes homeless, sometimes employed, and occasionally steals. He’s not an especially likable character, but I enjoyed being a part of his thoughts, his views, and his haphazard journey through life. Maybe it's because I have empathy for addicts and others who live on the edge.

This powerful and gripping collection of stories was troubling, intense, an

I stayed in the library, crushed breathless by the smoldering power of all those words—many of them unfathomable.

Sometimes I judge and consequently love a book based upon the following points:

- A single, beautiful line I longed to read or hear in the words of some person other than me.

- A completely related character.

- A completely unrelated character.

- The way it makes me laugh.

- The way it makes me cry.

- The way it makes me feel extremely good about the life I’m leading.

- The way it makes me
Denis Johnson took the fringe sensibilities of The Beats, added his own raw poetic touches, nicked a line from Lou Reed for the title, and ended up with an intensely unsettling collection of stories that prefigured to a T the drug classic Trainspotting. You may wonder at first if the unnamed narrator of these accounts could really be such an uncaring cad. Well, as a bottom line, maybe so. But the thoughts of murder, the thieving, and the ultra-callous disregard for fellow man were in large part ...more
Brent Legault
This book ruined my reading bone for a long time. I wanted every story I read, every story by every other author, to be just like the stories in Jesus' Son. But of course they weren't and aren't and they stand alone in my mind, even now. Perhaps it's the whiskey talking, but I'd go so far as to call this little book one of the greatest of my generation. Not that such superlatives carry any weight anymore. I just can't get over this book. It was my first true love.
Is there a way of writing the right stories about the right people,telling everything neatly from start to finish. An Uppercase letter starting the story and a full stop waiting at the end. A boy meeting girl on the first page and walking away with her in the last one.

Or are stories like these...snapshots of nightmares which some would call hell, but is home to some. Where beautiful sentences strike you out of the blue, so beautiful that you read them again and again, flashes of lightning in a d
Aug 27, 2007 Jonathan rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: sigh...
Look, I don't know how else to put this. I recognize what Johnson's accomplished here, I acknowledge that he has a gift for phrase-level shine, and I concede that these semi-linked stories evince a remarkably coherent and vividly-depicted worldview that I might call "hopelessly optimistic," or maybe "tending to carry on when there's clearly no good reason to do so," or else, more succinctly, "Conradian" . . . but, I'm sorry, what I couldn't help but think/feel, wading through one after another o ...more
Dennis Johnson has a good way to describe things and has placed trouble riddled characters amongst some literal beauty.
A collection of stories tied together with a common theme of struggle and drugs.
He brings your eyes into the lives of characters on this earth with problems.

The few stories I mention are...

Car crash while hitchhiking
As the title say a powerful descriptive story where a hitchhiker is involved in an accident with a family including a baby.
Visceral and shows very well all that the

To find Rick Bass's words of praise in the opening pages, speaking about this great 50,000-volt kick thrill of a book, I knew that this would be just the thing to cure my reading inertia. I'd followed a Carson McCullers novel like a dream into the rabbit hole, shrunk and dreamed until This One woke me like a cruel Queen. Consider me awake.

Not unlike characters from the early works of McCarthy, the faces that come in and out of focus in Denis Johnson's fictional world are victims of their own mi
John Wiswell
Apr 23, 2008 John Wiswell rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Literary readers who've read all the good books
I wouldn’t dislike this book so much if professors and literati hadn’t rubbed it in my face so much. Don't get me wrong - it wasn't entertaining, enlightening, intellectually arousing, and it didn't harbor any interesting characters or compelling scenes despite dealing with drugs, physical handicaps and multiple deaths. The narrator was far too pretentious with far too little beautiful writing or insight to pull it off. I was mostly bored or depressed, and occasionally outraged and how poorly wr ...more
Bill  Kerwin

A poetic, disorienting book of short fiction about semi-criminals, heroin addicts and idlers squandering their lives on the fringes of urban northern Idaho.

The narrator is an interesting study in contrasts--irresponsible, irrational . . . and yet gifted with moments of almost mystical clarity.
I lost my phone charger, which meant I couldn't talk to the other people in my band about whether we were having band practice. I assumed we were going to, though, because we skipped the last two and we have a show on Wednesday. And we ALWAYS practice on Saturdays, right? So I lugged my guitar- usually it lives in the practice space, but I accidentally left it in Bex's trunk after we played the San Francisco Trans March ("This song is dedicated to everyone who throws around the word 'tranny' wit ...more
Jul 01, 2009 Malbadeen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: AJ
I don't usually care for books/stories/movies where drugs are the main topic of conversation but these characters' drug habbits were entirely secondary to their familiarity. There were so many underlinable moments that could've been missed because of the fast/easy pacing. At first I thought "Work" was going to be my favorite but I'm pretty sure "Beverly Home" takes up that spot in the end. Maybe after I pause to catch my breath I'll consider this 4 stars but right now I feel like I've been runni ...more
The novelization of the Mountain Goats album We Shall All Be Healed. Or We Shall All Be Healed is actually Jesus' Son: The Musical!. Either way.
K.D. Absolutely
This collection of 11 short stories by Denis Johnson is just okay for me. With the subject of prohibited drugs, theft, petty crimes, poverty and life in US underground, it was like totally alien world for me. It was not as riveting or unique as William Burrough's landmark book on drugs, Naked Lunch (5 stars) and not as heartfelt as Hubert Selby Jr.'s Requiem for a Dream (4 stars). It has some brilliantly perceptive lines but even if I can stand two-hour movies (Trainspotting or Fear and Loathing ...more
Jason Coleman
Like Rimbaud, the Velvet Underground, and the 1970s Oakland Raiders--and unlike David Byrne, who lost it, or Lebron James, who never had it--Denis Johnson has mystique. He earned it largely through this, my second favorite book in the world. Think of it as Hemingway's Nick Adams on tequila and PCP, plus some pharmaceutical opium (and let's throw in a horse tranquilizer). Reading it for the fourth or fifth time (which I had not even planned to do, it just wouldn't let me go), I am struck by its u ...more
Henry Martin
Jesus' Son was a rather interesting read. The stories contained within the volume all appear related, yet there doesn't seem to be any order as far as the timeline goes. Then again, the stories are from the point of view of a "fucktard".
Reading the praise on the back cover, given by various publications, I was expecting something entirely different from what I've got. The review snippets mention Twain, Burroughs, Kerouac, Whitman, Blake. I did not see it.
Nonetheless, to give praise where prais
Nate D
Sep 30, 2008 Nate D rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Nate D by: Jeremy, Ellen
A simultaneously lucid and dreamlike Trainspotting for the American Midwest. And it's as funny as it is poignant.

At first, I read everything at simple face value, drinking in bleary mood and vague, impressionistic set pieces. After a few stories, though, the disjointed action began to leave me looking for broader connections and meanings. But in the end, I'm content to leave it alone. If I find myself grasping at epiphany that skims fingertips but stays just out of reach and hazy, well, then I'm
Sep 08, 2007 Terry rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: most people
Denis Johnson was a bad alcoholic, druggie, and petty thief back in the day. These stories are from that time. Nowadays you almost have to state: I don't advocate the lifestyle. But the stories affected me like nothing since 9 Stories by Salinger.

Far from being downbeat or crazy, the stories are luminous, made of fine crystal, with sentences that burn: "Down the hall she came. She didn't know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That's what gave her such power over us. She was glorious, burn
It’s probably no accident that so many of Denis Johnson’s characters find themselves in cars heading to nowhere. The misfits and sinners that populate his stories are lost, sometimes physically, but most often emotionally. They’ve succumbed to their past, which usually didn’t set them on a good path, so they can only keep driving forward even if its going in the wrong direction. The enthralling part of Johnson’s writing is that no matter how appalling we find the characters, we understand and sy ...more
what can i say, there was another graduation today. the service was in this catholic church. i brought the pain, i.e. pulled a method man. given the book title, i feel like people were a little less judgemental.

i hadn't read tree of smoke or anything by denis johnson, and (honestly?) have enjoyed publicly confusing him with dennis cooper, another impossibly cool/edgy/drugs/dicks&pussies writer type liked by all the wrong people. i'll get around to cooper soon and regret that last sentence e
Although each of the short stories in this collection follow the experiences and (mis)deeds of a raging drug addict, all is not dreary, bleary-eyed drug-induced trauma; there is a lightness and quickness beneath these stories. There is even a dry, deadpan wit at times, like in this passage from “Emergency” where a sheepish doctor with an inferiority complex has been summoned to the emergency room to attend to the victim of a bizarre stabbing:

“He peeked into the trauma room and saw the situation:
I had high expectation for this one; a bunch of writers have cited it as a primary influence, and I thought Tree of Smoke was pretty good. And Jesus' Son certainly had its moments. Johnson can be a beautiful writer. But overall, the stories felt loose and flappy.

Some of this probably has to do with subject matter. Writing about drug heads doesn't require that any of their motivations or sentiments actually "make sense" and, while this has a certain liberating effect on the idea of prescriptive p
I'm giving this book four stars if only because I've been giving out five stars too willy-nilly and it's gotta stop. Am I going to go back and reevaluate books I've already rated five stars? No, probably not. Because I AM LAZY.

That being said this book is great and I am a fool for not having read this sooner. Especially because I read Tree of Smoke and Train Dreams first. This book presents a world that I don't want to be a part of, yet I can't help but get the feeling that it is already all aro
The only thing I could think of while reading this is that its what that sensitive druggie high school dropout I always wondered about finally did with himself. If you didn't have someone like that in your high school, for a stand-in you can just picture Jordan Catalano from "My So-Called Life" (the Jared Leto role). Except uglier. . . much uglier. This is the book he would have written 15 years after dropping out, after almost OD-ing several times, getting a bunch of other idiots hurt or killed ...more
Ryan Chapman
If there's any kind of truth in literature, it'll be found in this collection. There are times when these stories actually made my chest hurt and I had to sit up.
Dec 17, 2012 Jason added it
Shelves: read-2011
Let me be frank. This is a collection that has received a lot of press. It was massively important twenty years ago and it is still important today. I don't need to summarize what's going on for you. What I do need to say is that these stories pack a whallup. They hurt. They move through time like a blackout, the characters cutting through space and days in a way that is sometimes difficult to adjust to, but ultimately feels completely natural. There is no bottom to the depths that a person can ...more
Jan 08, 2008 Dustin rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: acid flashbacks
Recommended to Dustin by: Zulema, Jacob
If I had read this book five or six years ago, it would have changed my life. Unfortunately, I didn't, I read it now, and while it probably won't change my life, it has certainly added something to it: something about surreal beauty and tragedy and sublime loneliness. I feel like this is the book every writing workshop student wants to write--you know the one, that modern opus, that distillation of contemporary life into an unrecognizable series of details and actions that rings so true that you ...more
AJ Griffin
Aug 22, 2007 AJ Griffin rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: elliott smith
i'm back, fuckers.

I read this on my 22 state excursion. I'm so tired right now that i'm in danger of getting a concussion from my head landing rather suddenly on the counter, so this might be a bit on the lackluster side. But anyway.

I did like this book, really, but I think it came at the wrong time or something. It was well written, I enjoyed it, but at the same time, I feel like i've read it before. Bukowski, Kerouac, Wolfe, etc etc. I feel like the bitter, drug-ridden style of writing, all bl
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What makes these stories so damn good? 10 100 Jun 12, 2013 04:57PM  
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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
More about Denis Johnson...
Tree of Smoke Train Dreams Nobody Move Angels Already Dead

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“She wanted to eat my heart and be lost in the desert with what she'd done, she wanted to fall on her knees and give birth from it, she wanted to hurt me as only a child can be hurt by its mother.” 81 likes
“I knew every raindrop by its name.” 50 likes
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