Sarah Hudak's Reviews > Jesus' Son

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
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Nov 14, 2011

really liked it
I own a copy

I have often been reminded not to judge a book by its cover, or in the case of this book, by its title. Jesus’ Son was not at all what I expected it to be, but I was certainly not disappointed. The title of this collection of short stories, centered on an unnamed narrator, comes from a lyric of the song “Heroin” by Lou Reed, which is placed at the beginning of the book and says, “When I’m rushing on my run/And I feel just like Jesus’ Son…”. Because the stories are so vaguely connected, I strongly believe that this simple quote was provided to tie every bit together; this is a collection of testimonies from a faceless man who bears witness to every day life, in spite of his loneliness, and shapes hope because of the things he learns from the situations.

Although this story focuses heavily on drug use and other unfortunate life situations, the overall messages of the stories are not as bleak and dark as they should be. Johnson’s ability to craft poetic, edgy prose that focuses on the realistic thoughts of the character he has created in turn creates a highly aesthetic quality to his writing and the book as a whole. The pace and tone of the story is easy to read because of Johnson’s natural style, even when the concepts can be heavy to take in, especially for suburbanites who have not even encountered the hardships the protagonist has. Another beautiful quality of Johnson’s writing style is that it invites the reader directly into the narrator’s head. Even though he is not a completely likeable or virtuous person, being placed inside of his world and sharing his thoughts allows the reader to become empathetic towards his cause. His imagery within the hard, real elements of the subplots of each individual story also invites the reader’s mind to take flight beside the narrator as he goes on these semi mundane daily adventures.

One particular element I found refreshing was the fact that these stories, though connected, could be read in any order (however, I read them in the order that they were written because I am highly rigid and unoriginal, unlike the structure and format of this book.) I have never read a collection of short stories like this before, but I definitely like this style and would consider trying it in my own writing, whether as a published work like Johnson has done, or just as a character and story-telling exercise for my own personal use. As far as I know, this style is very experimental and may not appeal to every reader. Even though this book was not what I expected, and honestly, a bit confusing to me at first, the style of the writing and of the stories themselves makes this book a good read, not just for sheer entertainment purposes, but also for the purpose of inspiring fellow writers to try a different form of fiction writing or as a reminder to writer’s that creating an empathetic protagonist is key to a successful story.
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