Bonnie's Reviews > Train Dreams

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
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's review
Nov 13, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, wild-wild-west
Read in February, 2013

A dreamy little novella that tells the story of the life of Robert Grainier, a quiet, hardworking man who leads a hermit-like existence in the woods outside a small town. He spends some seasons logging, but for the most part he doesn’t ever go far. Grainier is just an ordinary man living an ordinary life, mostly by himself. He had a wife and daughter, but they died in a fire while he was away logging. He never wants to marry again – he is at peace with his solitary life.

The story is more a collection of vignettes - sudden bursts of insight into Grainier's experience. It's not linear, either - a character who dies early in the book is alive later because the event takes place earlier in the timeline.

There’s also unexpected magical realism aspects, with Grainier seeing the ghost of his dead wife and the appearance of the Wolf Girl (a werewolf? A girl gone feral living among the wolves? A figment of rumor and imagination?).

It’s interesting that the novella takes place mainly during the 20th century (Grainier dies in 1968) although Grainier’s existence seems more like a 19th century one. Cars and movie theaters make an appearance (barely) – and it’s mentioned that Grainier watches TV when he’s in town. But Granier doesn’t even have his own radio. He’s living the same life he would have a century earlier. The 1900s-1960s were filled with some of the most explosive changes and yet World War I, World War II, the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, radio, electricity, everything, everything does not even make a dent in Grainier’s consciousness. He lives so far away from the rest of the world it’s like he’s a pocket of a time long forgotten.

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