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Jesus' Son

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  28,383 ratings  ·  2,043 reviews
Jesus' Son is a visionary chronicle of dreamers, addicts, and lost souls. These stories tell of spiraling grief and transcendence, of rock bottom and redemption, of getting lost and found and lost again. The raw beauty and careening energy of Denis Johnson's prose has earned this book a place among the classics of twentieth-century American literature.
Paperback, 133 pages
Published February 17th 2009 by Picador (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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4.10  · 
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 ·  28,383 ratings  ·  2,043 reviews

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Aug 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Bill  Kerwin
Apr 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 the man 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 still have it soun
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
Paul Bryant
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,
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. Drugs are bad, m’kay?

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 burnin
Sep 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 reade ...more
Feb 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2015
“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 st
Aug 20, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
John Wiswell
Nov 15, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Doug H - On Hiatus
What’s the deal with great writers and drugs and/or alcohol? It seems most of my favorite writers start out with amazing talent and then slowly fizzle out under the weight of some form of substance abuse. Patrick Hamilton, Carson McCullers, Richard Yates... (add your own).

In my book, Denis Johnson is turning out to be an inverse exception to the rule. For most of his twenties, Johnson was addicted to drugs and alcohol but he quit drinking alcohol in 1978 and quit recreational drugs in 1983 and t
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
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
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dennis Johnson has a good way to describe things and has placed trouble riddled characters amongst some literal beauty.
A collection of stories tied together with a common theme of struggle and drugs.
He brings your eyes into the lives of characters on this earth with problems.

The few stories I mention are...

Car crash while hitchhiking
As the title say a powerful descriptive story where a hitchhiker is involved in an accident with a family including a baby.
Visceral and shows very well all that th
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1974-2002, 2016
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
Jul 05, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I lost my phone charger, which meant I couldn't talk to the other people in my band about whether we were having band practice. I assumed we were going to, though, because we skipped the last two and we have a show on Wednesday. And we ALWAYS practice on Saturdays, right? So I lugged my guitar- usually it lives in the practice space, but I accidentally left it in Bex's trunk after we played the San Francisco Trans March ("This song is dedicated to everyone who throws around the word 'tranny' wit ...more
Jul 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: AJ
I don't usually care for books/stories/movies where drugs are the main topic of conversation but these characters' drug habbits were entirely secondary to their familiarity. There were so many underlinable moments that could've been missed because of the fast/easy pacing. At first I thought "Work" was going to be my favorite but I'm pretty sure "Beverly Home" takes up that spot in the end. Maybe after I pause to catch my breath I'll consider this 4 stars but right now I feel like I've been runni ...more
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, 5-stars
I re-read this book in June 2017 because Denis Johnson died at the end of May 2017 and it felt appropriate to mark that somehow. He has written several books that I admire but Jesus' Son is one of those books where the language re-wires your brain as you read it and you come out of it a different person than you were when you started it. And it only takes a couple of hours to read, so that suggests a pretty intense experience. And it is.

The New York Times says it: "is his fifth book of fiction,
Jun 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana, book-club
As I read this tiny book on my subway commutes the past few days, people would look at me with the same wary but affectionate mien with which they take in old church ladies reading the gospel or Hasids reading scripture--some sort of vague nostalgia for religion that people can retain for the rare person who practices in public in a way that is unobtrusive to others. That is they would, I assume, until they saw the flood of color-barred pills on the cover like so many holiday candy corns.

This w
Nate D
Aug 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nate D by: Jeremy, Ellen
A simultaneously lucid and dreamlike Trainspotting for the American Midwest. And it's as funny as it is poignant.

At first, I read everything at simple face value, drinking in bleary mood and vague, impressionistic set pieces. After a few stories, though, the disjointed action began to leave me looking for broader connections and meanings. But in the end, I'm content to leave it alone. If I find myself grasping at epiphany that skims fingertips but stays just out of reach and hazy, well, then I'm
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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.”
Imagine, you’re driving at sunset on the highway, the speedometer hits 80,90,100. You have a cigarette in your left hand, the tip burns bright as you ash it out the window. You’re surrounded by five friends, two cramped into the front seat the other three in
David M
Just read this on a flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis, and I have to say I loved it. A miniature epic of our society. Going on when we can't go on. Rest in peace, Denis Johnson.
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The wonderful thing about finally reading Jesus' Son 25+ years after its publication is that you can instantly recognize how many subsequent writers have been striving to achieve Johnson's pristine, gut-punching sentences and clear-eyed portrayals of hard-luck characters. I am grief-stricken that Johnson is gone at 67, but he has said that much of the material for Jesus' Son was autobiographical, so I'm also grateful and amazed that we had him as long as we did. A short, compassionate book that ...more
Rachel León

When Denis Johnson died last week I learned how revered he was and realized I needed to read his work. I started with this one since it's probably his most famous. I was blown away. Obviously it's time to read more of his work.

Indeed, we lost an amazing writer.
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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, th ...more
“I knew every raindrop by its name.” 90 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.” 69 likes
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