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Jesus' Son

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  32,369 ratings  ·  2,436 reviews
Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life unmatched in power and immediacy and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close to our own, the stories in Jesus' Son of ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 160 pages
Published December 15th 1993 by Harper Perennial (first published 1992)
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Rose - Sadness pie soup - I think the underlying theme of F.H's humanity is extremely compelling, in a way that most readers might not notice it at first glance. The underlying…moreI think the underlying theme of F.H's humanity is extremely compelling, in a way that most readers might not notice it at first glance. The underlying tones of who this man used to be really resonate deeply, not just with addicts and the like.(less)

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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  32,369 ratings  ·  2,436 reviews

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Aug 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Ellen by: Bob
Shelves: alltimefaves
I once fell in love with a man just because he recommended this book to me. He had a glass eye and fingernails with with half moons of crust lodged underneath, thick and dark as coffee grounds. He was living covertly and temporarily for about four years in one of those storage units out by the interstate, and I would sometimes go see him when I wanted to get high or feel better about my life. At some point he died when they blew up a bridge to build a dam, and he happened to be sleeping undernea ...more
Kevin Kelsey
"I could understand how a drowning man might suddenly feel a deep thirst being quenched."

Magnificent, concise writing. A calm sort of sad, and strangely relaxing. Stories about people living in the corners of society.

It’s like I’m sitting on the porch of a shack in the middle of nowhere, listening to the saddest old man I know tell me misremembered stories about how shitty he was when he was young.

It all feels extremely real, like lives that were lived. The stories are connected, and all share a
Vit Babenco
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the psychedelic world everything is surreal… Everything is blurred…
The downpour raked the asphalt and gurgled in the ruts. My thoughts zoomed pitifully. The traveling salesman had fed me pills that made the linings of my veins feel scraped out. My jaw ached. I knew every raindrop by its name. I sensed everything before it happened.

In the phantasmagoric surroundings even hopes and pursuits turn surreal…
And with each step my heart broke for the person I would never find, the person who’d love m
Bill Kerwin
Apr 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories

A poetic, disorienting book of short fiction about semi-criminals, heroin addicts and idlers squandering their lives on the fringes of urban northern Idaho.

The narrator is a study in contrasts: irresponsible, irrational . . . and yet gifted with moments of almost mystical clarity.
Jesus walks here, among the degenerates, the drunks, the addicts, the living dead that populate the pages of this collection of very short, connected stories. You'll see him in beautiful moments, outstretched hands seeking redemption, the presence of an unlikely trinity of down and outers.

Yes, Jesus. Even though the title refers to lyrics in Lou Reed's song, "Heroin". Jesus and heroin are mixed here. A potent, jarring combination.

The same character who spends his sober evenings as a peeping tom
Feb 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nancy by: Evan
Posted at Shelf Inflicted

I wasn’t sure if I would like this collection of loosely connected stories about a young guy who is addicted to drugs, sometimes homeless, sometimes employed, and occasionally steals. He’s not an especially likable character, but I enjoyed being a part of his thoughts, his views, and his haphazard journey through life. Maybe it's because I have empathy for addicts and others who live on the edge.

This powerful and gripping collection of stories was troubling, intense, an
J. Kent Messum
*I'm heartbroken to hear of Denis Johnson's recent passing. The man was a personal hero and great literary influence of mine. I'm floating this review of his quintessential masterpiece as a tip of the hat to an exceptional author who brought us some of the finest prose.

Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite works of all time. Denis Johnson is a major influence of mine, and Jesus' Son had a profound effect on me.

This was the book that showed me how far you could stretch your prose and stil
Jun 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: s.penkevich

I stayed in the library, crushed breathless by the smoldering power of all those words—many of them unfathomable.

Sometimes I judge and consequently love a book based upon the following points:

- A single, beautiful line I longed to read or hear in the words of some person other than me.

- A completely related character.

- A completely unrelated character.

- The way it makes me laugh.

- The way it makes me cry.

- The way it makes me feel extremely good about the life I’m leading.

- The way it makes me
Steven Godin

"I'd been staying at the holiday Inn with my girl-
friend, honestly the most beautiful woman I'd
ever known, for three days under a phoney name,
shooting heroin. We made love in the bed, ate
steaks at the restaurant, shot up in the john,
puked, cried, accused one another, begged one
another, forgave, promised, and carried one an-
other to heaven."

Read a couple of Johnson's novels in the past and thought they were good but not great. These short-stories however were the real deal, and most of them total
Junk-sick, Broke and Completely Alone, in a Land of Bad Intentions

I've gone through three copies of ‘Jesus’ Son’, reading it like a prayer-book, though it’s nothing of the kind. There's a sadness living in every sentence, and it doesn't really have any suggestions for better living, beyond a painfully obvious cautionary tale. Heroin is bad.

The cautionary tale, however, is one interpreted by the reader. It's the best kind of dangerous, like a manual for poetic self-immolation, on burning you
Paul Bryant
Oct 22, 2017 rated it liked it
I kind of sort of liked this woozy teensy bouquet of junkie memories but it was just too oh what’s the word even though the very sky above me was heavy with the five stars sluiced over this book by all previous readers in all the seven realms of readerdom.

I got a mean and unworthy thought – that you could take sentences from almost anywhere in any of these stories and put them next to other randomly selected sentences and they would make as much sense, so I took something from page 20, 40, 80,
Sep 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Denis Johnson took the fringe sensibilities of The Beats, added his own raw poetic touches, nicked a line from Lou Reed for the title, and ended up with an intensely unsettling collection of stories that prefigured to a T the drug classic Trainspotting. You may wonder at first if the unnamed narrator of these accounts could really be such an uncaring cad. Well, as a bottom line, maybe so. But the thoughts of murder, the thieving, and the ultra-callous disregard for fellow man were in large part ...more
Elyse  Walters
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These stories are not for devoutly religious readers...

The book takes its title from the Velvet Underground song, “Heroin”.
The setting is in America... Iowa, Chicago, Arizona, California, Seattle...

There are several addicts, a hitchhiker, bus riding, train riding, rush hour and commuters, nurses
and people running around in an emergency room, a mute man, beautiful women, phony women, puking women, a belly dancer, making love in hotels, eating steak in restaurants, a black-eyed, slit-eyed guy, a
Feb 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, fiction
“All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.”
― Denis Johnson, 'Jesus' Son'


Sometimes while reading this I thought I was reading Burroughs (just not so dark), other times J.G. Ballard (just not so cold), sometimes even Palahniuk (but with more of a poet's heart). It was madness, a fever dream, tied together with beauty. It was fragments of insanity s
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent prose & a roaming plot to boot. These short stories together describe the grit inherent in modern America. We meet drunks & druggies, victims of crime and a vicious environment. America is rarely portrayed like this-- with so much beauty & ugliness combined. Books like these make me feel bad for hating on The Poets. This is poetic &, despite its brevity, confoundingly major. You want to read more of the narrator's misadventures: it is as addictive to the voracious reader as the drugs a ...more
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
All narrated by a recovering heroin addict these interrelated stories are vignettes of a world where normality as we know it has been completely expunged. In one story he obsessively spies on a married woman in the shower; in another he works as a porter in a hospital and meets a man with a knife impaled in his eyeball; in another he helps dump the dead body of someone his friend has accidentally shot. Johnson comes up with lots of fabulous images for this surreal underworld he has created. One ...more
Aug 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: sigh...
Look, I don't know how else to put this. I recognize what Johnson's accomplished here, I acknowledge that he has a gift for phrase-level shine, and I concede that these semi-linked stories evince a remarkably coherent and vividly-depicted worldview that I might call "hopelessly optimistic," or maybe "tending to carry on when there's clearly no good reason to do so," or else, more succinctly, "Conradian" . . . but, I'm sorry, what I couldn't help but think/feel, wading through one after another o ...more
Brent Legault
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book ruined my reading bone for a long time. I wanted every story I read, every story by every other author, to be just like the stories in Jesus' Son. But of course they weren't and aren't and they stand alone in my mind, even now. Perhaps it's the whiskey talking, but I'd go so far as to call this little book one of the greatest of my generation. Not that such superlatives carry any weight anymore. I just can't get over this book. It was my first true love. ...more
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites

To find Rick Bass's words of praise in the opening pages, speaking about this great 50,000-volt kick thrill of a book, I knew that this would be just the thing to cure my reading inertia. I'd followed a Carson McCullers novel like a dream into the rabbit hole, shrunk and dreamed until This One woke me like a cruel Queen. Consider me awake.

Not unlike characters from the early works of McCarthy, the faces that come in and out of focus in Denis Johnson's fictional world are victims of their own mi
Aug 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Is there a way of writing the right stories about the right people,telling everything neatly from start to finish. An Uppercase letter starting the story and a full stop waiting at the end. A boy meeting girl on the first page and walking away with her in the last one.

Or are stories like these...snapshots of nightmares which some would call hell, but is home to some. Where beautiful sentences strike you out of the blue, so beautiful that you read them again and again, flashes of lightning in a d
Dec 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
This collection of stories is really short, but don’t let that fool you. Each word releases so much power that an hour spent reading Jesus’ Son carries the same impact as two hours of reading another book. Johnson throws off images like dazzling pieces of shrapnel, and for me, those gorgeous passages are what held the book together more than any actual plot.
The narrator is a junkie with a life so chaotic that you always have the feeling anything could happen at any second. He might see an angel,
Claire Fuller
God I loved this. A perfect collection of short stories. Fuckhead is in his early twenties and he's a drug addict and alcoholic. And no, a series of stories about drug-fuelled craziness narrated by this kind of man, wouldn't normally interest me, either. But the free-wheeling mind-altered narratives are so fresh and scary, and sometimes even funny. Don't be put off by the subject matter, just read it. ...more
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

And when it comes to fiction a bigly chunk of “my” people are drug addicts . . . .

Jesus’ Son has been on my TBR for an age due to the fact that it is considered a modern classic and has appeared on list after list of must reads that I can’t ever stop myself from looking at, despite having 11,000,000,000,000 books already waiting for me to get to them. I can’t guarantee everyone will love this one – due to the aforementioned dr
Dec 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Saints standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the fire, perne in a gyre
And be the singing masters of my soul.
W.B. Yeats

This book ROCKS - but too much sex ‘n drugs ‘n Rock ‘n Roll can give you Brain Sin Cavities - if you’re not already aware of that fact.

I guess near the end of his sadly-lamented, too-short life, Johnson’s headspace was all one great Grand Canyon.

And when your brain’s a total gap, your life is zapped.

Johnson flushed his in the process.

You know, Sig
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people with shitty nicknames
Shelves: 2016
Last Exit to Brooklyn in the boonies is what Jesus' Son feels like. It's an interconnected series of short stories starring the very down and very out in rural Iowa as they stagger through young adulthood. Its protagonist's name is Fuckhead, so there you go.

There's this great confused quality that's familiar to me from my own experimental days, which were much less dire (not at all dire) but, like, in one story they're all having a sendoff party for a friend who's going to jail, and midway throu
Read By RodKelly
I love a no-skip story collection. This was excellent!
John Wiswell
Nov 15, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Literary readers who've read all the good books
I wouldn’t dislike this book so much if professors and literati hadn’t rubbed it in my face so much. Don't get me wrong - it wasn't entertaining, enlightening, intellectually arousing, and it didn't harbor any interesting characters or compelling scenes despite dealing with drugs, physical handicaps and multiple deaths. The narrator was far too pretentious with far too little beautiful writing or insight to pull it off. I was mostly bored or depressed, and occasionally outraged and how poorly wr ...more
Aug 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, 1974-2002
The novelization of the Mountain Goats album We Shall All Be Healed. Or We Shall All Be Healed is actually Jesus' Son: The Musical!. Either way.


In "The Art of Reading Denis Johnson" (Poets and Writers, Nov/Dec 2013, pgs. 23-27), the guest columnist suggests that the line I knew every raindrop by its name is symptomatic of a "want of Wordsworthian affinity for the natural world, or a groping after a kind of Buddhist cohesion with the cosmos..."

I call bullshit on this Boston University
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A hallucinagenic fairytale about a lost soul in the 1970s, a man who feels too much, sees too much, experiences too much, where pleasure and pain intermingle. Stunning prose, astonishing insights. Read this is you're looking for something different and exceptional. ...more
1. Car Crash While Hitchhiking
“He couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.”

2. Two Men
“It doesn’t matter what his problem is, until he’s fully understood it himself.”

3. Out of Bail
“Some of the most terrible things that had happened to me in my life had happened in here. But like the others I kept coming back.”

4. Dundun
“For a moment I fell asleep, right while I was driving. I had a dream in which I was trying to tell someone something and they kept interrupting
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A Great Collection of Short Stories 1 10 Oct 15, 2017 10:11PM  

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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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“I knew every raindrop by its name.” 102 likes
“And therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person’s life on this earth. I don’t mean that we all end up dead, that’s not the great pity. I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.” 83 likes
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