Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Train Dreams” as Want to Read:
Train Dreams
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Train Dreams

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  11,347 Ratings  ·  1,548 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Train Dreams, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Mad Tom 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)
Graeme Pearce yes. trains have always operated as metaphors for our lives. go figure!

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
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 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I finished this book a few days ago and still it haunts me. During and shortly after reading it I got frustrated by all the apparent symbolism that I couldn't for the life of me put together. But stepping back and thinking about it from a non-intellectual point of view, it is just an evocative and gorgeously written book. Much of the writing is very simple and matter-of-fact, but then without you really noticing it he transitions into a very beautiful and poetic passage. There are three such pas ...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
Oct 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joins pantheon of stellar (first?) novellas 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 'lil package.
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reads like a dream, with a strange mixture of sorrow, humor and a sprinkling of the supernatural. Here, Johnson has presented us with the evolution of America in the 20th century through, somewhat ironically, the eyes of a hermit. With his wistful prose, Johnson depicts an American wilderness which we cannot help but be pulled towards, even as the evolution of our society pushes us further and further away from it. In trying to think of how to describe this short novella to someone, the best I c ...more
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
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
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
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
Mike Puma
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012

A solid story, sad and satisfying, one which might, initially, provoke feelings of déjà vu in those who’ve read A Prayer for the Dying.

An American mountain man, stoic and self-sufficient, enjoys an all too brief period of love and intimacy before tragedy and loss impose, and he’s left to fend for and only for himself. Johnson’s gentle prose resists a stereotype, rendering the protagonist credible and admirable. The inevitable wolf-girl scene defies belief but situates the story in a mythic trad

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
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 though 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-acquainting myself with the tale to be told. I later bought the Kindle version. A mystery read, and a satisfying one. A strange an
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
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
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, fiction
“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,
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,
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.
Jonathan Ashleigh
This short and sweet novella tells the story of one mans life in the Pacific North West; he never gets close enough to see the ocean however. I was waiting for it all to be pulled together in the end and this didn’t quite happen, but I gave it three stars anyway because of the way the narrator told the story. The narrator makes this worth reading because the events are beautifully described in the language of the time.
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
Jun 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e5, n-alemanha
Há certos livros que, logo à primeira linha, nos aprisionam dentro deles.
Aí nos mostram outro mundo, outra época, outra gente, outras vidas tão distantes da nossa e, simultaneamente, tão perto pelas suas tristezas, pelos seus desejos e, acima de tudo, pelo manter dos sonhos, que alimentam a capacidade de sobrevivência do ser humano.
No fim, libertam-nos deixando-nos o coração em cacos.

Roubo, para aqui, a opinião do Luis Miguel que, tal como eu, teve a sorte de "tropeçar" em Denis Johnson:
To start, I must admit that, once again, this is the kind of book I eat up to a certain degree. I don't want to say it's impossible for me to hate a book that takes place out west, the fabled chunk of the United States that I know as home, because I'm sure there are books of the area that I wouldn't like... I just haven't met them yet (thank god).

Train Dreams reflects on the life of Robert Grainier, who works on the railroads, forests, and roads of the Moyea Valley, rougly somewhere in the Idaho
Oct 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, westerns
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
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
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
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Garima by: Nick
A perfect 'Once upon a time' story for adults.

An elaborate response would follow someday soon.
Everyone should stop whatever they are doing, put down whatever they are reading, right now, and read Train Dreams.
I mean it.
It's a novella, and a short one at that, so it'll only take you an hour or two.
So you really should read it now.
I see some of you still aren't reading it.
You there in the back!
The one smoking a joint.
And the other one with spots.
If you don't start reading it now I'll have all of you shot!
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
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
The life of Robert Grainier, in sum:

Grainier himself lived more than eighty years, well into the 1960s. In his time he'd traveled west to within a few dozen miles of the Pacific, though he'd never seen the ocean itself, and as far east as the town of Libby, forty miles inside Montana. He'd had one lover -- his wife, Gladys -- owned one acre of property, two horses, and a wagon. He'd never been drunk. He'd never purchased a firearm or spoken into a telephone. He'd ridden on trains regularly, many
Guy Austin
Jun 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, bingo
A friend recommended this to me. A quick read under 200 pages. The first chapter or two I questioned why, but as it progressed I began to understand. It is a telling of the life of one man living in Idaho – an orphan from Canada or Utah… who really knows. It is set in the early to mid-parts of the 1900’s. An Americana story. The main character takes us through his life slowly, quite detailed, for such a short Novel, under 200 pages.

Grainer’s life is not such a simple one. Starting as a self-des
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Denis Johnson 1 4 Jun 14, 2017 12:43PM  
Deep, real reads: Train Dreams 1 4 Jul 28, 2013 12:20AM  
21st Century Lite...: Train Dreams - Chapter 3 (June 2013) 10 32 Jul 10, 2013 11:26PM  
21st Century Lite...: Train Dreams - General Comments, Spoilers Allowed (June 2013) 72 77 Jul 04, 2013 03:56AM  
21st Century Lite...: Train Dreams - Chapter 9 (June 2013) 5 26 Jun 26, 2013 04:52AM  
21st Century Lite...: Train Dreams - Chapter 1 (June 2013) 28 68 Jun 25, 2013 01:42AM  
21st Century Lite...: Train Dreams - Chapter 2 (June 2013) 17 31 Jun 21, 2013 12:14AM  
  • Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories
  • Volt
  • Gryphon: New and Selected Stories
  • Airships
  • The Angel Esmeralda
  • Love in Infant Monkeys
  • Whites
  • Bear and His Daughter
  • Leaving the Atocha Station
  • Pulphead
  • Orientation: And Other Stories
  • Mrs. Bridge
  • The Outlaw Album: Stories
  • Butcher's Crossing
  • American Woman
  • CivilWarLand in Bad Decline
  • The Quick and the Dead
  • Paradise
Poet, playwright and author Denis Johnson was born in Munich, West Germany in 1949 and was raised in Tokyo, Manila and Washington. He holds a masters' degree from the University of Iowa and has 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, ...more
More about Denis Johnson...

Share This Book

“It was only when you left it alone that a tree might treat you as a friend. After the blade bit in, you had yourself a war.” 16 likes
“He liked the grand size of things in the woods, the feeling of being lost and far away, and the sense he had that with so many trees as wardens, no danger could find him.” 12 likes
More quotes…