Alex V.'s Reviews > Train Dreams

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
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's review
Sep 10, 2011

it was amazing
Read in September, 2011

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 life is like that of a ghost haunting the spirit of Western Expansion; he just wants to live quietly and simply and life is just too loud and complex to allow it. His wanderings are spectral stumbles through odd jobs, odd people, the occasional bit of the supernatural.

The best part, though, is the poetry through which the scenes are illuminated. Like:

"She probably don't even speak English," he said aloud, and realized that nobody else was present. He was all alone in his cabin in the woods, talking to himself, startled by his own voice. Even his dog was off wandering and hadn't come back for the night. He stared at the firelight flickering from the gaps in the stone and at the enclosing shifting curtain of utter dark.

I can see where other reviewers are calling Johnson's existential Western "Cormac McCarthy for softies", but really, the authors are chasing different birds. McCarthy is all hawks and buzzards; Jonson is sparrows and grey doves, cooing, being shooed off by the noisier birds, but ultimately persisting and pecking their way through the mystery of existence. Grainier's life might be as slight as this little volume, but it is also as huge as the whole of the sky.
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message 1: by Tom (new)

Tom Love the bird metaphor in final para! Well done.

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