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


4.02  ·  Rating details ·  1,110 ratings  ·  111 reviews
From Holden Caulfield to Moses Herzog, our best literature has been narrated by malcontents. To this lineage add Peter Jernigan, who views the world with ferocious intelligence, grim rapture, and a chainsaw wit that he turns, with disastrous consequences, on his wife, his teenaged son, his dangerously vulnerable mistress—and, not least of all, on himself. This novel is a b ...more
Paperback, 238 pages
Published March 31st 1992 by Vintage (first published 1991)
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 Jernigan, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Jernigan

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. RowlingTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. TolkienJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Great Debut Novels
1,128 books — 1,873 voters
Post Office by Charles BukowskiThe Rum Diary by Hunter S. ThompsonThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea HandlerI Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max
Drunken Masters
256 books — 403 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.02  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,110 ratings  ·  111 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Jernigan
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Gates's Jernigan might be one of the most relate-able yet horrible characters ever. He's a jackass and doesn't know any other way to be.

When you're brought up by weak people and fraternize with weak people, you tend to have an inclination to be weak yourself unless you do something about it. Peter Jernigan's not trying to find himself, he knows himself. He's a terrible father, husband and irresponsible as hell. He does what he feels like without thinking about others feelings and drinks more tha
Jan 11, 2015 added it
Shelves: finished-in-2015
Some books you're just relieved to finish. Thank Odin, Zeus, the Buddha, whomever, for putting me across the finish line. Books like this are notoriously difficult to rate, so I'll leave the stars behind some mostly cloudy.

See, the old dilemma is this: What if you hate the protagonist? I mean, can't stand the guy? Does that sway your view of the book? Should it? I know you can argue that the book is BRILLIANT because the author is causing you to loathe his main character, but what if it has noth
Steven Godin
Peter Jernigan's life has hit the rocks, after the death of his wife through a freak accident he has failed miserably as a father to his teenage son and has a bit of drink problem, the answer?...move in with the mother of your son's girlfriend (predominantly to get your sex life back!) and try to play happy familys again, get fired, sell your own house once the dollar signs flash before your eyes, and in the face of what life throws back at you just simply drink some more and laugh everything of ...more
Mar 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of clever, self-congratulatory authors
Ultimately, this novel is a pretty fast read and fairly entertaining. But it has a lot of bad writing and a number of poor decisions by its author, David Gates.

Define bad writing? Sure. It's when the narrator's insecurity leads him to be needlessly intrusive. Here are some examples of bad writing in Jernigan:

I mean, at least I'd found out that this was a neighborhood where blacks weren't moving in, however you were supposed to feel about that. Uh-oh, no cultural diversity. Though in fact all I'd
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jernigan (1991) by David Gates is mesmerising.

I cannot really explain how one of the most misanthropic, troubled, bitter drunks imaginable, with few, if any, redeeming features, results in such a brilliant and compelling book.

Peter Jernigan's life is spiralling out of control. His wife's gone, he's lost his job and he's a stranger to his teenage son and his only relief is to drink himself stupid.

All the reader can do is look on in horror as Jernigan shares his sorry tale with customary eruditio
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: alive
Very funny, sad drunk-guy writing. Definitely part of a school, but in the front row.

there's some nimble plotting that makes the book more.
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-we-love
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): Recently, at the urging of Nanci McCloskey, I began reading David Gates’ Jernigan. She tossed the book to me while packing for a business trip. I skimmed the jacket copy, my eyes widening. “Geez, Nanc, this is super dark and they kind of give it away in the description.” What startled me was something like this “chainsaw that he turns, with disastrous consequences, on his wife, his teenaged son, his dangerously vulnerable mistress—and, not least ...more
Jul 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those novels that establishes its greatness from page 1, and you spend the rest of the novel desperately hoping it can maintain that greatness. In the most part, it really does. Originally released in the early 90's and soon to be reissued (you'll hear lots of reaching for Stoner comparisons, I haven't read Stoner, I dunno), the 90's seems just about distant enough now to make this novel FEEL that otherness of another era (no mobile phones...the walkman) maybe Jernigan's time has ...more
Jul 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
If you took John Updike and Richard Ford and gave them each a serious drinking problem then they would've probably come up with this bleak portrait of an American Father on the edge. At times shocking and touching, it nevertheless keeps you reading due to Gate's keen prose and razor sharp eye for detail. After finishing it you'll see why it was shortlisted for the Pulitzer. ...more
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
like being buttonholed by a slobbery drunk who pisses his pants, is self-obsessed, who treats everyone with disdain and cynicism, including - especially - those he sleeps with, and those closest to him. Might not sound great, but I enjoyed every word. Peter Jernigan is kind of fun in a terribly un PC way.
🐴 🍖
i'm confused. it's sad front to back. the casually cruel & hypocritical narrator's #1 hobby is drunk driving & lol if you dare to think he might redeem himself. there's virtually nothing of interest going on at the sentence level. ffs, there's a climactic scene where a Real Bad Thing happens juxtaposed w/ dialogue from it's a wonderful life... and it works. i don't think there's any way i can describe this to make it sound worth your while but, like... it is. read in the most wretched possible s ...more
Aug 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is the darkest painting of suburbia I've read in awhile. If your life stinks, replace it with Jernigan's. Here's what you get----alcoholism, self-abuse, teenage son on drugs, shacking with mother of teenage son's girlfriend, death of wife, death of rabbits for food, loss of job, plus did I mention drinking large quanities of gin. Now why does this character continue to shot himself in the foot (or in his case hand)? Seems like he just doesn't give two hoots. What makes the book work th ...more
Aug 27, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who is willing to settle for a Catcher in the Rye wannabe
I am rounding Jernigan's rating down to a two and a half. This book rises and falls on its narrator and main character, Jernigan. Though the author was hoping to create an adult version of Holden from Catcher in the Rye, he did not succeed. Jernigan lacked whatever makes a reader sympathize with Holden. For most of the book, I found myself wishing that Jernigan would attempt the suicide that I was sure was inevitable so I could stop reading or at least get a new narrator.

With that extensive disc
Aug 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Calling Peter Jernigan the anti-hero is just not enough. Sure the book is a story of Peter's decent after getting fed up with not only failure, but that the suburban life wasn't all what he expected. But there is way much more to it, and I can't even begin to explain it all. Each page I was taken back by not only the story but how I was getting drunk on the intensity of each character. No one really writes like david gates but most wish they could. ...more
Mar 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Jernigan is a selfish drunk who somehow, miraculously, interests me in his pathetic scrambling through his life by virtue of the writing talent of his creator, David Gates. I had no reason to like Jernigan, except he didn't like himself either, and he's funny. Those two qualities and the writing kept me with him to the last page, and I did wish I could find out what had become of him after that. ...more
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: america, selected european suburbs
I picked this up on a whim at a book store. I'd never heard of the book or the author, but I guess there was a tempting blurb. In any case, great book about modern America. Plenty of despair and drinking. Quick read and good story-telling that is shocking in a low-key way. ...more
Katie Coleman
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Full disclosure, I’m very partial to the author, David Gates, who was my advisor at Bennington. This book is an insane, unputdownable noise dive into the inner mind of a drunk, unhappy suburban white guy in the twilight of the twentieth century. Gates does bleak and funny well but voice best. His constant fourth wall breaking - always controlled and purposeful - makes Jernigan spring fully formed out of the novel like a cringeworthy, creepy uncle you love to watch self-destruct at a BBQ. Do not ...more
Marie Chow
Apr 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Cut to the Chase:
A dark portrait of suburban life gone awry, Jernigan’s misery is due in equal parts to bad luck/unfortunate circumstance as well as chronically bad life choices on his part. Jernigan is self-deprecating, yet kind of a bully; he’s intelligent but completely underutilized; he’s psychologically damaged but also simultaneously aware and oblivious in a way that’s hard not to identify with. Though Jernigan is plagued with specific psychoses and vices (his bunny-killing lover, alcoholi
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
I came across David Gates for the first time this year in the Best American Short Stories collection. It was a story titled ‘A Hand came down to guide me’. It’s a story about friendship between men with an eye to looking back over how a life is lived and how it might end. It’s good.

Then my friend Naomi recommended this novel which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 1991. It was Gates’ first published novel. In an interview, he says that Jernigan was an experiment. "I think what I wanted to do w
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great portrait of a modern father, widow who starts to take risks in his life not because he is courageous but because he has nothing to lose. And the reader ends up having compassion for Jernigan because he narrates his journey with unflinching emotional truth. Throughout the book, we want to urge him to get some sleep, stop drinking, talk to his son. We want to push this guy into doing the right thing. And when he does, on occasion, like cutting down a Christmas tree with his son, it is heartb ...more
Dec 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Peter Jernigan is a middle-aged malcontent with a dark, sharp sense of humor and a fondness for Star Trek TV episodes and almost continuous drinking. Living in New Jersey, he sees his drunken wife die in an auto accident and not too much later falls into a relationship with a woman, who has almost as many problems as he does, and her drug-using daughter. The novel by David Gates is funny but grim throughout with a chief character who not only is a disaster waiting to happen but a disaster that d ...more
Peter Knox
Feb 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2015
Suburban sadness, but this disquiet does not stay very quiet. Similar to The Sportswriter or Revolutionary Road or Stoner, it's a short novel of unhappy relationships, stalled careers, addiction, money, pain, and soaked in too much booze. Written from rehab, it's an honest self-aware clever strong voice of one man's downfall, with many ups and downs throughout. It hooked me and took me along for the abuse that came with the journey. Suggested if you find yourself in the right mood, as the writin ...more
Apr 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Yes it's a brilliantly written book about an American male alcoholic ruining his life. How many of those have we got now? Found myself wondering if there are any good books about American female alcoholics ruining their lives, you know, just for a bit of variety... On to the book: Jernigan has a brilliant dry darkly ironic internal (and sometimes external) monologue. Liked it, and it's prob a 4-star book but for the above reasons (yet another American male anti-hero story?) it gets a three. If a ...more
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gates is very talented. I had never heard of him or this title, and only came across the novel because it is a Vintage Contemporary and therefore the spine and cover struck my eye at the used bookstore. In Jernigan he portrays a dark and gritty view of American suburbia and domestic life. The main character/narrator is a darker, more flawed version of characters like Rabbit Angstrom or Frank Bascombe. Readers that demand a Norman Rockwell portrait will be disappointed; this is a novel for those ...more
Mar 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Like Catcher in the Rye (similar structurally, thematically, etc). Except instead of redemption, it ends in despair. There's one moment that's infused with a little hope. One. This isn't a criticism; it's an observation.

The last line is the coldest sentence I've ever read.
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
I didn't really like Catcher in the Rye, but I figured it was because I was too old when I read it. This is supposed to be like an adult Catcher in the Rye, but I still didn't like it, so maybe it's me. I have a problem with books where I hate everyone in the story. ...more
Brendan Finn
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
We're talking about Peter Fuckin' Jernigan. Best book about the contemporary (90s/white) male at the edge. Jernigan is the realest character I've have ever had the pleasure of meeting. God bless David Gates. ...more
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do yourself a favour and read this book.
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Here's a book that literally showed up in my front lawn. With bicycle tire tracks all over it. I picked it up and started reading. Whoever left it there knew I was a sucker for novels set in Upstate New York and New England. However, when someone is hailed as a new JD Salinger, or the work is favorably compared with Catcher in the Rye, I should know it is a trap.

First the good. Gates is a skilled writer of dialog, solid at developing a character, and is able to set a scene. He can get the pages
Frederic Kerr
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
Picture "Leaving Las Vegas", narrated by the Nicholas Cage character, but here the guy is a smartass with no redeeming qualities. Just pages of drinking and compounding misery inflicted by protagonist Jernigan on himself and everyone around him.

There's rage, self sabotage, fighting, job loss, verbal cruelty, death, suicide, alienation, bad parenting, drugs, more drinking, sexual abuse and animal cruelty. It's all here, delivered with a tone of relentless ambivalence.

What's the payoff? I don't k
« previous 1 3 4 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
David Gates podcast 1 10 Jul 09, 2013 07:12AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Ablutions
  • Cosmopolis
  • Wonder Boys
  • A Feast of Snakes
  • Hillary's Back! (DI Hillary Greene, #18)
  • Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky
  • Good Morning, Midnight
  • Pick-Up
  • Drop City
  • Childhood
  • If I Never Met You
  • Bretonische Brandung (Kommissar Dupin, #2)
  • Ancient Evenings
  • Cabot Wright Begins
  • Up Above the World
  • Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation
  • Everyone's Pretty
See similar books…
David Gates (born January 8, 1947) is an American journalist and novelist. His first novel, Jernigan (1991), about a dysfunctional one-parent family, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1992 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. This was followed by a second novel, Preston Falls (1998), and two short story collections, The Wonders of the Invisible World (1999) and A Hand Reac ...more

News & Interviews

We all want to spend more time lost in the pages of great books. That's the idea behind our annual 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge! It's...
93 likes · 13 comments