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Train Dreams

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  19,031 ratings  ·  2,174 reviews
Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions.

Robert Grainer is a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shock
Hardcover, 116 pages
Published August 30th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2002)
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Donovan Your comment falls into the "I can do that and better" category. As it sounds like you're an aspiring writer, you probably shouldn't shout about that …moreYour comment falls into the "I can do that and better" category. As it sounds like you're an aspiring writer, you probably shouldn't shout about that until you can prove it. (less)
Ben Fisk The protagonist works in road gangs during much of his life. He starts out working on building a train track or bridge, as I recall, as a youth in the…moreThe protagonist works in road gangs during much of his life. He starts out working on building a train track or bridge, as I recall, as a youth in the 19th century. The book is set in the Northwest of the US, and captures an aspect of the changing landscape and people of that area during the life of the protagonist. I agree with the other answers as it is really a metaphor. Johnson is a wonderful author of characters who live on the fringe of sanity and that is what the book is about, at least partly. (one is always free to see further into a writing. Johnson wrote somewhat like a painter of landscapes. Any landscape has an infinity of details. He puts the broad brushes in , and we can read into it based on our own experiences and perception.)(less)

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Bill Kerwin
May 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I refuse to stain this small perfect book with a long review.

This short novel is a dream: the kind you dip into, just for a drowsy second, yet wake from to find youself still immersed in a great epic--wounded by its sorrow, giddy with its marvels—all visited upon you in the blink of an eye.

The story of Robert Grainier, a laborer in the Great Northwest during the first third of the last century, is full of tragedy, tall tales, temporal dislocations, homespun humor, plain-speaking, and supernatur
God needs the hermit in the woods as much as He needs the man in the pulpit.’

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, a novella shortlisted as a ‘Best Book of 2011’ by almost everyone from the New York Times to Esquire, and also considered for the Pulitzer, is a haunting little book that blossoms from the vine of American history. Spanning from the turn of the 20th century up until the late 60s, Johnson positions the reader to watch as the American west is transfigured by the technological growth of the n
Oct 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joins pantheon of stellar (first!) novellas from literary cosmonauts such as "The Neon Bible" & "A Pale View of Hills". This is better than the drug chronicle and much-imitated "Jesus's Son"--without that confusion, the story is more than captivating and, this being Johnson, devastating: American dreams, y'all!

It's all here in the perfect, brutal little package.
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As the 20th century begins a young boy, Grainier, travels to his new home by train. His life story is told in 116 pages of the most gentle writing that lifts the words right off the page and slowly into your heart. As the train whistle fades in the valley Grainier now a man he visited by dreams - his train dreams. Who was he then? At home with the wolves, coyotes and creatures of the hunt. Gentle, strong and patiently alive in the spirit of nature. He shares his knowing and skills while letting ...more
Jul 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-reviews
"He very often wept in church. Living up the Moyea with plenty of small chores to distract him, he forgot he was a sad man. When the hymns began, he remembered."

I sometimes wonder if I'm a natural reader. There are moments, like the greater part of last year, where there's nothing I like more, and whichever book that comes my way will be devoured in short notice. Other times, like the last couple of months, I become more picky, books don't manage to grab a hold of me due to other distractions th
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018, modern-lit
This little book has been sitting on my to-read shelf for so long that I can't remember whose recommendation prompted me to buy it. I am very glad that I finally found the small amount of time needed to read it, as it is a beautiful and atmospheric miniature.

The book's subject is Grainier, and it follows his isolated life in a remote and wild valley in the north of Idaho through a series of episodes that span his long lifetime. It is partly an elegy for the old west and partly a reflection on ho
Andrew Smith
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like novellas, they feel a lesser undertaking than settling into a novel in its full form. For me it also opens up options I might spurn if I thought I'd have to take on three hundred or more pages.

I first picked up this thin book at at a local bookstore - I was attracted by a single sentence as I briefly flicked through it. I didn't read the blurb or otherwise pre-acquaint myself with the text and I didn't buy it at the time, but the sentence stayed with me and I later bought the Kindle vers
I hardly know anymore where reading ends and real life begins - the border between the two is getting hazier and hazier.

Take Thursday evening, for example. I was on a train finishing a book called A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing. A powerful book, such a powerful book that when I’d finished, I needed a distraction so I took out my iPad to see if I had a book on the ereader app to help me pass the rest of the journey pleasantly. Train Dreams seemed perfect at a little over a hundred pages, and so it
Steven Godin
Train Dreams appears at first if it is on familiar territory: a short but sweeping third-person historical novel which grapples strongly with the American myth of the pioneer sensibility, the dramatic speed with which that remarkable nation arose around a startled populace. Robert Grainier it's main character is an itinerant labourer, building bridges and felling trees for the rapidly expanding railways of America in the early 20th century.

He finds happiness with his wife and infant daughter, bu
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Owing to the fact that I have read the semi-autobiographical short story collection Jesus' Son a few times (and you should absolutely do that), I had a wrong-headed assumption about the subject matter of this novella. Based partly on the title, I figured this would be a more modern take on the same territory in JS, of the grim realities and screwed up interpersonal dynamics of off the grid types, namely junkies and alcoholics who haven't done their taxes in a decade and smell like cigarettes, pa ...more
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-novels
This is a brief novella, easily readable in one sitting; well written and lyrical. It is a third person historical tale about the life of Robert Grainier spanning the period from the 1880s to the 1960s with the depression of the 1930s standing out in the background. Grainier is a manual worker who works over the years on the railroads, logging, transporting; but generally earning from the sweat of his brow. Grainier is an ordinary man with hopes and dreams, a decent man who suffers loss and trag ...more
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of Robert Granier, a quiet man living a quiet life. It is a story of little action, and yet, it says so much.

This novella is so atmospheric and dream-like. Trains are an integral part of Granier's life. Orphaned at six he is sent to the panhandle of Idaho to his new family via the Great Northern Railroad. His first memory is of the mass deportation of a hundred or more Chinese families clamoring aboard three open flatbeds. He worked for many years clearing the forests in advanc
Jon Nakapalau
A beautiful encapsulation of the life of an average man - haunting and expansive - a compassionate version of Babbitt.
Mar 22, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
As me and my better half perused the shelves of our local library, we came upon Train Dreams by Denis Johnson.  Even though I hadn’t read any of Johnson’s works prior to, I had had the curiosity to check him out via my girlfriends’ mentioning of Jesus’ Son last year.  As I flipped to the back page to look at the author’s picture (something I’m strangely accustomed to do), I see a man sitting with his back to the wall; with black-tinted sunglasses looking up to the heavens, sun-drenched, cool and ...more
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2015
“Frost had built on the dead grass, and it skirled beneath his feet. If not for this sound he’d have thought himself struck deaf, owing to the magnitude of the surrounding silence. All the night’s noises had stopped. The whole valley seemed to reflect his shock. He heard only his footsteps and the wolf-girl’s panting complaint.”
― Denis Johnson, Train Dreams


So, I've just read my second great American novella set in Northern Idaho. 'Train Dreams' isn't A River Runs Through It and Other Stories,
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
4.5 stars

This is a superb novella covering one man's life in the American West during the late 19th and early 20th century. He works on the railroad and in the logging camps, then settles in a little cabin in Northern Idaho. The prose is gorgeous, sometimes soaring, but never flowery. The story is too non-specific to be considered historical fiction, but it feels like an authentic depiction of life in that region in that era.

John Steinbeck's darker works are marked by superstition, animism, and
Diane S ☔
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a small child he arrived on a train and later would not have a clear understanding of where he came from or what his background was. For a time, as an adult he would make a living from trains, clearing the trees so more tracks could be laid, a necessity as more and more people moved West. It is the early twentieth century and great changes are taking place in the United States. Yet for the most part the West was a raw and hard place for a man to make a life and raise a family.

Told in a spare
This small book has a great palette of feelings to offer you. En entire life opens and expands itself while reading the compact chapters. Mesmerising.
switterbug (Betsey)
Denis Johnson won an O. Henry prize for this novella of the old American West in 2003. It originally appeared in the Paris Review but is now reissued and bound in hardback with an apt cover art—a painting by Regionalist Thomas Hart Benton called “The Race.” If you contemplate the painting for a while, you may feel the ghost of the book’s protagonist, Robert Grainier, as he, too, felt the ghosts and spirits of the dead.

Robert Grainier is a man without a known beginning—at least, he didn’t know hi
Mar 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: u-s-lit
Early in this novella, but not in his chronological life, Robert Grainier feels obliged to help fellow workers grab a Chinese laborer, working in the Pacific Northwest, and throw him off a span of bridge into a gorge below. They are ultimately unsuccessful, but Death is not denied otherwise in the life of Grainier. In fact, everyone he meets seems to have a sorry end.

The story of this man (this Country?) is told in sepia-toned, non-linear vignettes. His Asian adventure (if you want to read somet
This novella is a work of great magical story telling. A story that will lay for some time in your thoughts, of novella length but holds depth and meaning more than many nine hundred page novels out there now. I can't stress enough on how you must read this. If I ever one day i write a novella I aspire and dream to write with this quality and craftsmanship.

The main protagonist is a man of good virtue he is on the straight and narrow, due to many things he has witnessed and taking account of. One
Sentimental Surrealist
If anyone can be accused of writing fiction way too closely tailored to the tastes of prizegivers, it's Philip Roth.

And Jonathan Franzen.

And John Updike.

Okay, a lot of writers. But let's add Denis Johnson to that list, which is a damn shame because it wasn't always this way. Jesus' Son and Angels are both great fucking books, visceral and ghostly at the same time. But then something happened, and I'm not sure what, but Johnson became this sudden chronicle of the American mythology. Okay, fine,
Oct 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: westerns, fiction
I was looking for a little piece of Americana in this novella, and Denis Johnson certainly delivered. It tells the story of Robert Granier, who's an everyday kind of guy, working in logging and bridge building in the early 20th Century. It's a sad story, since Granier lives, for the most part, a lonely (and long) life against the stunning backdrop of the Idaho Panhandle. Granier does experience love, but it's a love that is tragically cut short due to a raging fire that transforms the landscape ...more
Jun 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure what to think of this one. This short novella tells a long tale in a sparse and emotionless way. Some segments were interesting, some were not.
Robert Granier is a loner throughout his life. He doesn't seem to be emotional in any way; he goes with the flow. He comes from nowhere; he doesn't know his parents or birth place. It makes for an unemotional story and gives it an aloof feel.
The train is always in the background. I like trains, so this is comforting, in its way. I'm not sure
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Novellas can often be underwhelming, there is so little time to be hooked by the narrative, to fall for the characters.

For a good half of this reading I was thinking small, small, small. Tiny splinters aggravating the surface of the imagination.

I think Grainer's wolf howling was the fulcrum and suddenly I was right there amid the charred wilderness, four walls and no roof.

Later as the years unfold and Grainer's bones fist and knot, none of it feels like dying. Some of what goes on stills read
Mar 19, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: public-library
I could not sync up with this story, expected something much bleaker. There didn't seem to be room for the inclusion of the mysterious secrets of Moya Valley and the main character's bent toward howling with the wolves at night. There was certainly nothing wrong with the writing, the tale simply did not click with me. ...more
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finally a western that doesn’t want to cut your throat, but to have you howl at the moon.
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Can a man live through most of a century and not really be a part of it? The historical events that mark a century for history are wars, rise and fall of nations, political leaders, inventions, cultural shifts beginning with artists – they have virtually no impact on Robert Grainie in this novella. He lives an isolated existence that spans two thirds of the 20th century in the woods of the north Idaho Panhandle. His only connection with a larger world are the trains that rumble through the villa ...more
robin friedman
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Train Dreams For Independence Day

Each year for the Fourth of July I try to write a review that captures something of the spirit of the day. Earlier this year, I attended a conference in Seattle and took a cross-continental train trip home from Seattle to Chicago to Washington D.C., travelling through the Northwest on Amtrak's Empire Builder. This train trip offers an unforgettable view of the wildness and breadth of our country. I had recently read novels involving American history and railroads
Aug 17, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that make me feel like a Failed Grown-Up, because it's been reviewed as an excellent literary read, and accomplished literary people confirm that it's an excellent literary read, and then I read it and I don't like it. I picked it up because it was one of the stories that the podcast Literary Disco was reviewing; when they turned out to love it, and I disliked it utterly, I began to wonder where I went wrong, or what I was missing (and, later, to wonder if maybe this w ...more
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Play Book Tag: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson - 4 stars 3 9 May 15, 2021 12:29PM  
Goodreads Librari...: incorrect listing. 2 203 May 10, 2018 11:19PM  
Denis Johnson 1 11 Jun 14, 2017 12:43PM  
Deep, real reads: Train Dreams 1 6 Jul 28, 2013 12:20AM  
21st Century Lite...: Train Dreams - Chapter 3 (June 2013) 10 35 Jul 10, 2013 11:26PM  
21st Century Lite...: Train Dreams - General Comments, Spoilers Allowed (June 2013) 72 83 Jul 04, 2013 03:56AM  

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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 earned a masters' degree from the University of Iowa and 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, t ...more

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