Erin's Reviews > Train Dreams: A Novella

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
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's review
Jul 11, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: pulitzer-fiction
Read in May, 2012

Pulitzer in Fiction for 2012 was not awarded. They couldn't decide between:
The Pale King, Swamplandia!, and this novel.

Train Dreams is a brief, singular crystal. It's like looking into the mind of the wilderness itself. As the story of a rugged man working hard, it is, in some ways, the story of the American West. Main character Robert Grainier is an orphan shipped by train into the wilderness of the Idaho Panhandle in 1893. Fair play, I was born and raised in Idaho and went to college in the Panhandle.

But it's not Idaho I loved in this book. Idaho is merely the backdrop for the interplay of Grainier's thoughts and the wilderness he embraces. It's the story of a man who knows himself but doesn't know how to embrace others. It's the Hermit in the Woods, but it's so much more than that, too.

Johnson's control of period language is absolute. The people sound, well, simple, but are hidden wells of feeling and vitality without the adornment of educated rhetoric, which is a fancy rhetoric way of saying they're uneducated but compelling.

This is a must read, in my mind. I still can't shake some of Johnson's images, Grainier's intense love, and the turn to wild-unexpected.
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