AdultFiction Teton County Library's Reviews > Train Dreams

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
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's review
Aug 26, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: award-winners, western
Read in August, 2012

Call Number: F Johnson D
Julia's Rating: 5 Stars

Train Dreams, a novella written by award-winning author Denis Johnson, landed on the infamous short list of books short-listed for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction-that-ne'er-was. The fact that neither Train Dreams nor The Pale King by David Foster Wallace nor Swamplandia! by Karen Russell garnered the much sought after award caused quite a stir in the literary world.

And, I admit, I became fascinated with the whole thing. Why no award? What happened? What were these books lacking?

Having not read any of the three finalist titles, I couldn't weigh in on the debate. There's a fix for that, though. Read the books ... or one of them at least.

A handful of friends had passed on lukewarm reviews of Russell's book, and, well, Foster Wallace's tome is a TOME. Enter, Johnson's slim novella.

What a haunting read. Really and truly there are images from this story - the humble life of Robert Grainier, a laborer and widower in the Idaho wilderness early in the twentieth century - that embody, through Johnson's simple yet lyrical prose, such a dream-like quality that I swear they'll be conjured in my own dreams. A canyon ablaze in fiery flame, decimating lives and tree limbs, leaving snowdrifts of ash. The rumble of a train at night, echoing from canyon walls to river beds and back. The ethereal nighttime specter of a lost love, whispering a heart-breaking story, whose veracity could never be assured.

For those who love stories that glimpse life in the West as industry moved in at the dawning of the last century, read this engrossing novella. Prepare for Johnson's conjured world to unsettle you like a long shadow cast by a lantern through a cabin door. It's a quietly great American story - Pulitzer or not.
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