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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Superb.
Train Dreams is set in the American West in the first half of the twentieth century when America is moving towards industialisation. This wonderful, one might say, perfect novella tells the life story of Robert Grainier who works as a day labourer felling trees in massive forests to facilitate the laying of a railway network to connect the entire country. The story opens...
Published 10 months ago by Pigwin

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short but sweet
I enjoyed the book but found it rather short and consequently a little superficial. I thought the storyline was good but would have liked the author to have spent a lot longer over each piece giving us more detail so that we really got to know the characters and what was driving them. I suppose this is one of the problems of downloading books that I never look at the...
Published 17 months ago by A. Pick


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Superb., 11 Sep 2013
This review is from: Train Dreams (Paperback)
Train Dreams is set in the American West in the first half of the twentieth century when America is moving towards industialisation. This wonderful, one might say, perfect novella tells the life story of Robert Grainier who works as a day labourer felling trees in massive forests to facilitate the laying of a railway network to connect the entire country. The story opens in the Idaho Panhandle and describes Grainier's role in the attempted murder of a Chinese worker accused of stealing from the company's stores. Even though the man escapes Grainier is still upset at his part in the attempted killing.

Grainier works as a choker "down in the woods where the sawyers laboured in pairs to fell the spruce, limbers worked with axes to get them clean and buckers cut them into eighteen-foot lengths before the chokers looped them around with cable to be hauled out by the horses." These logs were then used in the construction of the giant railway bridge across the Robinson Gorge. Grainier is very much aware that the work he does in the forests is hazardous even while the woods provide a livlihood and shelter. Over the course of the book large tracts of American forest will disappear and not just because of industrialisation but also due to a huge forest fire - a fire that has tragic consequences for Robert. I won't go into this in detail as I think it is best left to the reader to discover what transpired.

There isn't any real plot or a continuous storyline, rather the novella is a collection of struggles and minor victories for Robert who comes across as a survivor in a world where death and loss appear to be commonplace. Parts of the story have a dreamlike and even a nightmarish quality where Grainier sees a ghost-like wolf girl or at the end of the novella when Robert is at the theatre and sees a howling wolf boy on stage. Johnson manages to mix natural events with almost supernatural elements in this marvellous novella.

Grainier had once seen a wonder horse, the fattest man in the world, a wolf boy and a wolf girl and had once flown in a bi-plane; he had started his life story on a train ride he couldn't remember and ended up standing around outside a train with Elvis Presley in it. Grainier lived more than eighty years. He had one lover- his wife Gladys, owned one acre of property, two horses and a wagon. He had never been drunk, purchased a firearm or spoken into a telephone. He had no idea who his parents might have been.

Denis Johnson has written an almost flawless novel of an ordinary man trying to make a living in a period of sweeping change on the American frontier. In a mere 160 pages of understated, balanced and beautiful prose he manages to produce a truly haunting story. It is not always easy reading and I found the story of William Coswell Haley's niece particularly upsetting, but the writing is always captivating.

This is a wonderful work which deserves to be read and I will treasure my copy of Train Dreams. How Johnson manages to convey the essence of Robert Grainier and his life in such a short story is an amazing feat. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small and Perfectly Formed, 7 Oct 2013
This review is from: Train Dreams (Paperback)
I've read Train Dreams twice in the last fortnight. Once, chapter by chapter. Once in one go. Both ways worked. The book is almost perfect.

I am in awe of the writing. The plotting is superb. The dialogue is sparse but true. The prose language is spare but wonderfully put together. I kept stopping to re-read individual sentences, stunned by the concise evocation of scenes and characters.

The life of Robert Grainier - his fragmented past, his backbreaking work, his marriage and child - is told with a dispassion that manages, although it shouldn't, to engage and grip the reader. It leaps around in place and time, yet remains cohesive and utterly compelling. And the supernatural elements are both shocking and life-affirming.

There is a review on the back cover of the paperback from the Scotsman, which suggests that, if they were eligible for the Man Booker, American books of this quality would be hard to beat. They now are eligible!

This book is published in Britain by Granta, who, on their back cover blurb say: 'This is the story of Robert Grainer...' No it isn't. His name is Grainier. For a book where every word counts, this is shameful carelessness.

Give Train Dreams a go. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and Evocative, 17 Sep 2012
By 
ACB (swansea) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Train Dreams (Kindle Edition)
Denis Johnson has painted a portrait in words set in chapters describing the life of Robert Grainier from his arrival in Idaho aged 6 or 7 to his death in his 80's. It is as much a novella of the changes in the high-minded, often lonesome Grainier as it is about the changes in the American North-West from the early 1900s to the 1960s.

I was not surprised to find the author is also a poet as his prose and flowing lines read as such. The descriptions of the scenes and situations Grainier encounter are so visually graphic that the reader is virtually present. The storyline is of a man who sets out to spend most of his life working on railway construction, labouring, logging, uncomplaining. Several events affect him profoundly. He believes he is cursed for life by a Chinaman who escapes execution on a railway bridge. A childhood encounter with a 'boomer', a railway hobo, on his deathbed who receives his last drink from Grainier from a boot. The meeting and marriage to Gladys who are taken away with their daughter Kate, after a fire that robs him of his home as well as his loved ones. Grainier never recovers.

He takes on a variety of employment, constantly tortured by the thought that Kate may be 'out there somewhere', following a dream-like visitation from Gladys. The constant train whistles, the howling of the wolves (he joins in their chorus) almost torment him. His conversations, albeit brief, are punchy, especially when taking a man, shot by his dog, to the doctor. Vowing to stay in the place of his calamitous loss following the death under a train of the wise Kootenai Bob, Grainier sticks to his word. A man who had not caught up with or chose to ignore most of the changes in the world around him (he was impressed with the construction of an iron bridge on his travels), his life ended almost as it had begun.

A movingly fixating tale of a man who settled upon his life only to have it tragically affected. Beautifully written.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic in miniature, 7 Sep 2012
This review is from: Train Dreams (Hardcover)
A wonderful gem of a book - it beats me why Americans seem to feel they must write 800 page tomes in order to write the 'American novel' when Denis Johnson has accomplished the same thing here in a quarter of the space. If you're a fan of Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy or any of their ilk this will be a book for you. It was short-listed for the Pulitzer last year and rightly so in my humble opinion ...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars American Nightmares, 13 July 2013
By 
Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Train Dreams (Paperback)
It was when the main character's family were burned alive about halfway through this novella I realised why this is an award-nominated book - it's damn miserable! Literary awards - as well as other creative awards like the Oscars - seem to go to books that are bleak and depressing, qualities that supposedly make them "grown up", "profound" and "wise" - or maybe I'm being cynical? From the opening scene where a Chinaman working on the railway is nearly lynching on a rumour that he was stealing building materials, to the scene when Grainier (the main character) gives a shoe full of water to a dying homeless man, one bleak scene follows another until the book's over. I also bet you any money that the winner of Best Picture this year will be "Les Miserables" - English translation "The Miserables" - because it is by far the bleakest, and yes, miserable!, of the bunch, therefore making it the most "serious" film.

I felt terrible for this poor bastard - the one light in his entire, sad life was meeting his wife and starting a family but Denis Johnson takes that away from him before thrusting Grainier back to a life of poverty and hardship, living in a shack in the woods, talking to stray dogs who inevitably either die or leave him - probably to die.

All of which would bother me if it wasn't so well written, well-paced, and well-observed. Johnson captures the time period effortlessly, making the characters seem plucked from the past and brought back to life on the page. But his descriptions of the more magical elements of the story made the book for me, from the dreams of his dead wife and her last, horrible moments alive, to believing the feral child he encounters at the end is his lost child, who'd survived somehow in the wild with the wolves, this is more than the story of a man who worked on the trains, and more of an intimate and complex character portrait of a man who embodies the frontier days he lived through, as well as man's own visceral and primitive nature.

While I thought the book had a lot to recommend it, I couldn't tell you what features of this book put it in the running for prestigious literary awards over many other books that didn't receive the same attention. That is, "Train Dreams" is a good read, but a Pulitzer Prize winner? - well it didn't win but it was nominated - I just don't see what makes it so special. It's definitely one of the good ones and well worth a look if you enjoy stories set in early 20th century America saturated with some very gloomy overtones and dowsed with gruesomely described scenes of human despair.

A lot of reviewers have commented that this is a "quick read" as if this is something to recommend in itself; it is a short book, just over 100 pages, but that doesn't mean it should be bolted down like a James Patterson novel, the literary equivalent of a Big Mac. Take your time with this book, enjoy the rich prose and vivid imagery - even if the book is a misery-fest!

And weep! For one day... we shall all die!

Awoooooooooooooooooo-oo!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books of 2012., 5 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Train Dreams (Hardcover)
I bought this after reading many reviews and several mentions for this book in end of year lists. I was not disappointed.

Put simply, this book marks one of the great achievements in modern literature. Epic, haunting, crafted in such a way that despite its short length, it will stay with you forever. I don't want to give too much away and I feel I'd probably just be repeating other reviewers here but you have to own this book. It's an almost perfect work of fiction.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vignettes of life close to the land in 20th century America, 16 Sep 2012
This review is from: Train Dreams (Hardcover)
Each short chapter in this short book is highly memorable - probably highly memorable throughout. Railway construction worker, logger, constructor of his own dwelling on the one acre of land he owns, we follow the central figure through tragedy in his personal life, and a degree of recovery.

This will be a very alien life to most readers. The triumph of the book is that we feel: yes this how life is when it is close to the edge of survival.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short but sweet, 19 Jan 2013
By 
A. Pick - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Train Dreams (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed the book but found it rather short and consequently a little superficial. I thought the storyline was good but would have liked the author to have spent a lot longer over each piece giving us more detail so that we really got to know the characters and what was driving them. I suppose this is one of the problems of downloading books that I never look at the length of the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great compact novel, 3 Mar 2014
This review is from: Train Dreams (Paperback)
Short vignettes from the life of frontiersman-for-hire Robert Grainier in the American West make for a strangely moving and deeply haunting study of solitude and the hallucinatory nature of the natural world's majesty. Terrific - one of the best short novels I've read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars It stays with you, 21 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Train Dreams (Kindle Edition)
This story really stayed with me after I had read it. What is the point of it all? What is the point of living and life? Here is a man who lives, gets through life the best he can and dies. Denis Johnson takes you into his head, without judging, and lets him tell his story. You hear the prejudices and beliefs of the time threated through as he tries to understand the difficult events that shape his life. I would read it again.
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Train Dreams
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (Hardcover - 6 Sep 2012)
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