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Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
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's review
Apr 16, 2012

it was amazing
Read on April 16, 2012

God damn. I love Denis Johnson.

The narrator of these stories are amoral and adrift, addicted to drugs or recovering, yet they possess a clarity of purpose and harmony with their situations that results, at times, in a giddy, upside-down kind of feeling (paralleling the glib, upside-down title of this collection). Here are some quotations from random pages:

"I was being taken out of the dance by my two good friends. I had forgotten my friends had come with me, but there they were. Once again I hated the two of them."

"He spoke in two voices. He was in his fifties. He'd wasted his entire life. Such people were very dear to those of us who'd wasted only a few years."

"'Are we doing a burglary?' I asked Wayne.
'You can't burgulate a forgotten, empty house,' he said, horrified at my stupidity."

"People entering the bars on First Avenue gave up their bodies. Then only the demons inhabiting us could be seen. Souls who had wronged each other were brought together here."

In another story, the narrator meets a Polish man on the ferry and spends the afternoon getting drunk with him, listening to him tell about his motorscooter: "'In Warsaw, my city, we drive in the park after twelve in the night, but the rules are saying no, you must not go to the park after this time...if the polices are catching, they will--bung! bung!--with their sticks!'" Only to have him come back from the john at one point and say "'Ah hell. I'm not Polish. I'm from Cleveland.'"

After a surprised moment, the narrator says, "'Well, tell me something about Cleveland, then.'"

Johnson is a master of such beautiful reversals--whether in a sentence, a passage, or a story.

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