on 17 December 2008
'Resuscitation' is a fine, readable novel, but for me it is mainly a dry run for the weird and warped epic that is 'Already Dead'. The titles of the two novels hint at a similar theme, but while in 'Already Dead' the theme is not just carried to its conclusion but driven wildly beyond it into a land of mists you would hardly expect a novelist to reach, 'Resuscitation' never quite fulfils its ambition. Still, there are great things in it, particularly the details of the hero's two jobs - as DJ and private detective - and the landscaping of the east coast outcrop where the action takes place. Denis Johnson is usually happier creating men in depth than he is women; this comes over clearer in this novel than elsewhere, since the relationship between the hero and his Lesbian girlfriend is too central for her lack of substance not to show. What is most interesting about 'Resuscitation', for me, is that having tackled the theme once and not entirely succeeded with it, Johnson then tackled it again but on a far more ambitious scale, in 'Already Dead', and came up with something quite miraculous.
on 29 May 2012
Johnson's rootless hero has come to live in a nightmarish seaside town in winter. Though a good part of the nightmare is in his head, not all of it is. This is a place people run away to, and he has come to work here as a clueless private investigator. His investigation is also a quest for religious meaning in the world, and for redemption. Both of these he finds, in a way, as he finds his quarries. He also goes mad, but some of his delusions perhaps accord with reality, perhaps are even helpful. This is melodramatic material, but Johnson's tone is serious, funny and intelligent, and anarchic. He is also a very enjoyable writer, a grat discovery for me, and I shall read all his books.
Denis Johnson is a new discovery for me - a writer, capable of sudden insights that make you sit up and, if you're a sad obsessive (like me), scribble out whole sentences or phrases, working out the magical insight of the words. An example - on the subject of Catholicism: There was never any explanation, never any consolation, but everything could be laminated by a terrible endorsement. It is that word `laminated' here that provokes a jolt of recognition of what it might be like to be a religious adherent besieged by doubt and disturbed, even alarmed, by the pull towards God, yet still anchored to the church, by a kind of moral lethargy.
Not that this book is about the exigencies of faith - it is primarily about paranoia of different kinds. We are on the Eastern seaboard of the United States and our protagonist, Leonard English, is a failed suicide who has come adrift from his life. He lands up in Provincetown where he has accepted a job to do surveillance for a private detective as well as a late night shift as a DJ on local radio. His new boss, whose wife is edging into premature dementia, may or may not be a member of a militant right-wing group. Provincetown is a Gay hub, especially in the holiday season and one of Leonard's first jobs is clandestinely recording the conversations of a lesbian couple. He also has missing person cases, one of which leads to a grisly discovery in the mountains.
The writing is tensile, realist, friable, with dips and swoops of feeling. Johnson does something so clever with his style, giving you space to experience this lost life from the inside, while maintaining a sense of movement and purpose in the plot. As with almost all anti-heroes one is both full of the sense of communion with, even as one is bemused by, the moral limitations of the character. I found myself worrying about the character, even wanting to say to the writer - ease up on poor Leonard, he can't take much more of this!
Denis Johnson has a fantastic talent for making the strangeness of the everyday and unremarkable resonate with realism and truth. Resuscitation showcases a brilliant writer and is a moving book; I was excited to find a writer with such penetrating intelligence and bitingly mordant wit.
'Resusication of a hanged Man' is where Johnson took the bleak outlook of 'Angels' and applied it to the noir tradition...This book is as readable as Chandler or Hammett, and is a bit like Elmore Leonard (if he didn't let his characters off with happy ends!). It also reminded me of Martin Amis's novella 'Night Train' and the American Music Club song, 'Kathleen'...The book stands next to any film or book in the recent neo-noir tradition (from Jim Thompson spouted 'Blood Simple'/'Fargo'; 'A Simple Plan'; 'Chinatown'; '8mm'; Elmore Leonard's 'Glitz'; Ellroy's 'Clandestine' or 'The Black Dahlia'; the excellent trilogy 'Kill Me Again', 'Red Rock West' & 'The Last Seduction' etc.)...As ever, the language & descriptions are poetic and the possibility of redemption in love positively touching...There are twists and a terrible scene at night, which reads like Kafka's'The Trial' on the worst drugs...The voyeurism & betrayal are horrifying, as the conclusion and sub-plot twists are surreal...It is a refreshing take on the Private Eye- the lead character's whole existence is based on deception...So, an existential noir- that is highly readable and along with 'Jesus' Son' a good place to begin with Johnson. Best read before moving on to his second, superior noir- the 'Californian Gothic' of 'Already Dead'- with it's masks & drugs & Nietzschean philosophy in the final lost valley...If only ALL of Johnson's books were available in this country- for anyone who likes any American fiction from Carver to Ellroy, from Paluhinuk to West...This is as good as darkness gets...