Already Dead: A California Gothic
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Already Dead: A California Gothic

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  1,658 ratings  ·  147 reviews
A contemporary "noir, Already Dead" is the tangled story of Nelson Fairchild Jr., disenfranchised scion to a northern California land fortune. A relentless failure, Nelson has botched nearly every scheme he's attempted to pull off. Now his future lies in a potentially profitable marijuana patch hidden in the lush old-growth redwoods on the family land. Nelson has some seri...more
Hardcover, 435 pages
Published August 1st 1997 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 1997)
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Szplug
Johnson writes like a dream, one Dantean page after another. As was the case with its younger sibling, Tree of Smoke , this is a flawed work of genius—and you daren't even skim the lengthier metaphysical soliloquies, episodes in finger-drumming vexation though they occasionally descend to be, simply because DJ threads them with phrases of such arresting form and subliminal profundity as to leave your eyes stickily aswim and seated-self shaking, whilst weaving them so dexterously into the logorrh...more
Paul

I guess when a little fly zooms through a window it might be thinking “whee, a great big room to explore, could be some wonderful rotted fruit or a discarded biscuit behind the sofa” and then SPLAT, it runs right into an angry man with a towel.


In this analogy I was – ah I see you guessed. And Denis Johnson was – ah, you guessed that too.
Eddie Watkins
After the potency of Jesus' Son, Fiskadoro, and Angels this is soft-bellied and slack, and only the wild characters kept it interesting. But literature has to be more than just wild characters with wild stories, in the end it's the writing itself that matters, and this struck me as the product of a racing pencil and a lazy eraser.

I'm not sure I'll even attempt the similarly thick Tree of Smoke after this bloated stoner of a novel.
Al
This was my fourth Denis Johnson book, and I think I've read one too many. Set in post-hippie Northern California, it's the story of a loosely connected group of stoners and aimless, dangerous people whose lives intertwine (and many end) for inconsequential reasons. What passes for a plot serves mostly as a platform for Johnson's exploration of his characters' lives, with a heavy focus on nihilism, musings on reincarnation, and the effect of dissipation on human beings. Although Johnson's descr...more
J
The master of the iconoclast...Johnson sheds California's darker underbelly in way I'm only beginning to understand having lived here for just over five years now. Perhaps one of the few contemporary fiction writers who can present addled characters amidst drug-induced euphoria without overt or gimmicky counterculture tones. I'd love to see him explore the long form again in his career.
Stuart
Pynchon's "Vineland," Anderson's "Boonville," Christopher Moore's black farces -- many good novels have been set on the Mendocino coast, but this may be the best of the bunch. Johnson completely nails the place, the people, and the vibe; and as usual delivers a satisfyingly complex tale peopled by unforgettable characters. This guy is turning into one of my favorite writers.
Bob
One of the great books of all time. I read the last 50 or so pages as slow as possible because I didn't want it to end.
Nate
Sep 18, 2007 Nate rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lost souls and bad-mojo hippies
wow. I don't know what to say. I may have to stop reading novels for a while after this one.
Alex
Pure. Epic. Dark. Glorious. There really are so many ADJECTIVES I could use to describe this one. I am very picky. I always have to be sure the book is worth reading. This one is.
Chris Gager
Will start tonight... maybe... I feel like a Denis Johnson spree!

Typical DJ... fun to read(great dialogue!) but a bit murky(and pretentious) on the psychic side. This California tale reminds me a bit of T.C. Boyle so far.

I'm getting further on into this sort of "silly epic". It's reminding me of "Straight Man" with it's bolluxed-up narrator. DJ seems to think that centering a book around a bunch of drug abusers, alcoholics, deluded psychos and shallow new-agers is a good idea but I'm not so sure...more
Matthew
This is a Northern California book. Ukiah and Point Arena and redwoods and such.

I was not enjoying this book at all until I got to the middle, and Denis Johnson's special sense of humor finally showed up to the party. The characters get more interesting as the book goes along, and there are a lot of characters - then the book fell down toward the ending for pages and pages and kept hitting the same branch: Rambling descriptions of paranoia, psychedelia, drunkeness, and spirit voyage. As fun as t...more
Jonathan Briggs
It’s interesting that the New Age concept of channeling plays such a prominent part in “Already Dead” as Denis Johnson seems to be trying so hard to invoke the voices of other authors. Mostly Don DeLillo. There’s an overpowering DeLillo influence here. Johnson also clomps down trails well-traveled by California fantasists Tim Powers and James Blaylock. He writes a leaden, tin-eared imitation of Elmore Leonard dialog that floats off the tongue like dribbled shot pellets. And God help us when he s...more
Keith
God, where to begin. Other than to say *possible spoilers*.

Is it possible for one book to be perfectly balanced between addictive and repulsive, lucid and impenetrable? This is my second novel by Denis Johnson (Tree of Smoke being the first) and both left me feeling completely hollowed out by the end, which is appropriate for a story that involves the creation and re-animation of empty vessels, empty lives.

I picked up this book in a Pacific Northwest airport, and nearly missed my flight becaus...more
Carly Safko
I liked Tree of Smoke a little more than Already Dead, though they share similar narrative bugaboos and stylistic quirks. I think it has something to do with the choice of content; Johnson is Johnson no matter what he writes, but Tree of Smoke was largely propelled by the vast energy that comes from the business of making war. There's a reason so many suspense thrillers are set in the middle of military operations.

Here the energy is generated by a larger than life archetype (think dimensions of...more
Liz
I have been obsessing over Denis Johnson this month. He has yet to disappoint me. Of all his work that I've read, though, "Already Dead" is the one that made the largest impact on me. It is one of those novels that you pick up and can not put down. The kind of book you feign illness and cancel plans with friends to stay in and read. Some of the mystical/spiritual aspects are a little hippy-dippy, but I didn't mind for once as it was in keeping with the Southern California feel of the book. Johns...more
Matt
Where to begin, where to end, and of course what thoughts do I not say? The last question would be what Denis Johnson forgo to ask himself, the characters are all what you would expect from his writing: lost, searching for some faded dream that is usually fueled by too many ingested chemicals. But that's not the problem of course, the problem would be this feels not even like a first draft but an earlier version where even ideas were still left in the text. This is a hard read, the narration swi...more
Ed
Totally creepy - with beautiful atmospheric nightmarish spooky world-bending prose Johnson tricked me into reading what counts I suppose as a suspense thriller. For Johnson a murder mystery isn't good enough if you're only wondering whodunit; for much of the book the question is who was killed - by whom is only a secondary (but still captivating) question. And there are ghosts witches and demons. And a fed up city cop out of his element in crazy coastal northern california. In addition to being...more
Bobby
Sep 12, 2007 Bobby marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Putting an end to the near year-long reading of Crowley fiction, I plan on switching gears to this one by Denis Johnson. My friend Geoff has raved about it for years, so it's high time I see what all the fuss is about. Also - I have to count myself among the other goodreaders who have been bested by this book in previous attempts to read it. There is something obdurate about it's narrative structure that keeps causing me to lose interest about half way through. My shame is somewhat mollified to...more
Cheri
This book made me wish I was already dead. I read Jesus' son by Denis Johnson & greatly enjoyed it. This book left me frustrated and dismayed. I couldn't follow the story, I didn't feel the characters were developed enough. I really had no feelings or interest for any of the characters in the book. Occasionaly I would get a few pages of Denis Johnson's talent but for the most part I was greatly disappointed. It took me so long to finish this book because I really had to force myself to get t...more
Frances Coles
A strange spooky book. A funny combination of hilarious and sinister. There is a scene at a seance that is really priceless, and I loved the character of Nelson Fairchild Jr., especially, who also seemed like a kind of authorial stand-in. The extended scene of him dying at the end - simultaneously dying and being haunted - is uncannily beautiful and subtle and resonant, almost like a long poem. And the last line is perfect. All of this said, I am not sure that this is a book that I would necessa...more
Janet
Clear, dense, lyrical, convoluted as The Big Sleep, a tale of intersecting fates and levels of reality on the Mendocino Coast of California. Fairchild, the grower of pot, son of a real Steinbeckian/Keseyish owner of 10,000 acres of uncut redwood, is the cause and center of the disaster which swirls out from his clever, overheated, lying, imaginative, cowardly, self-justifying self--an inevitable screwup over a drug deal.

What a cast and crew--Fairchild's schizophrenic brother, living in the redw...more
Nick
Jun 28, 2007 Nick rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Faulkner and other literary Gothic authors
Sort of like Pulp Fiction set in rural Northern California. The plot revolves around a gang of self-destructive and dangerous burnouts. While this easily could have slid into some pretty boring territory, each character is sympathetic and interesting. Johnson does a great job describing the supernatural qualities of day-to-day life without sounding trite, whimsical, or dorky.
Jason neese
takes place in california.
the most effective use of amorality as a principle driving force for character development that ive ever seen.
beautifully woven narrative. haunted and obscure. empty yet enriched through a descriptive tone that's unmatched.
the story is compelling as fuck.
love this book
Josh Boldt
Too many characters. The narrative unravels and loses focus. Still contains traces of Johnson's linguistic mastery--beautifully descriptive passages and unorthodox metaphor. However, the POV shifts and narrative digressions were too much for me to handle. I lost interest.
Shelby Goddard
Started this, but have set it aside for the moment. Just not feeling it right now. Very flowery, but in a weird masculine way, thick with metaphors on comic books and drinking. The word "dangerous" is beginning to lose all meaning.

Katey Parker
It seems like everyone's always hating on this Johnson novel because it doesn't tie up nicely, or pyrotechnically, at the end. I think that's one of its strengths. I think the characters are beautifully developed.
John Everett
Too goddam much writing, too many points of view; a lot of nice elements lost in a jumbled unsatisfying mess. Promising neo-noir plot riddled with spiritual hoohah and half-baked poetry.
Frank
It had some excellent imagery but couldn't keep my interest.
Steve
Very atmospheric and unsettling. I love the way he writes.
Michael
This is the fourth Denis Johnson book I've read and there is no doubt that he is a gifted writer. But I have had mixed feelings about them. I absolutely loved "Nobody Move". I really liked "Tree of Smoke" and felt it could have been great but wandered too much so I wasn't sure what story I was reading. His novella, "Train of Dreams" left me blank and unmoved. "Already Dead" was beautifully written but dense and jumpy. The structure made it difficult for me to follow the story line as it moved fr...more
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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...
Jesus' Son Tree of Smoke Train Dreams Nobody Move Angels

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“I make the road. I draw the map. Nothing just happens to me...I'm the one happening.” 32 likes
“I have the belief in boldness. What I generally lack is the boldness itself.
Because boldness doesn't feel bold. It feels scared not brave.”
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