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on 4 February 1997
These are the stories like Raymond Carver would write if he had this kind of vision and gift with words. Johnson is a poet, turned prose writer. His novel, Fiskadoro, is a feat of imagination; he conceives a new, post-apocalypse world and he invents a new vocabulary and syntax to go with it. This collection of short stories is even better. And don't sniff at the title--Jesus' Son--these stories are entirely legitimate. Most were published in the New Yorker, The Paris Review, or Esquire. Several were selected for the "Best Short Stories of..," where I first came across them.

The character are low, mostly drunks, addicts, and users. The setting is the west, Seattle or Tuscon. A lot of the tales begin, and end, at the Vine, a dive bar downtown.
In the story Work, two friends earn their drinking money by pulling the copper wire out of an abandoned house; not a burglary, one points out, but a salvage job. They watch in amazement from the attic as a woman skis by,nude,her red-hair streaming behind her. It may be a dream, one character suspects, but its turning out to be one of the best days of his life.
In another story, a young man hides in the bushes to spy on a young house wife as she showers. He admits how low this is, but he expect to go lower. He returns every day of the summer, hoping to catch the woman and her husband in the act. He sees something entirely different.
Emergency is my favorite of the collection. A man walks into the hospital with a knife in his eye socket,lodged there by his wife. An orderly, stoned after indiscriminately sampling the hospital's pharamcopia,casually removes the knife while the frantic surgeons are still scrubbing. Driving around later with a friend, they run over a pregnant rabbit. "We killed the mother, but saved the babies," one rejoices. They get lost in a snow storm, and find themselves at an empty drive-in, the speakers all squawking.

Not all the stories are this grim or bleak. And even at their blackest, they are funny. Mostly they are visionary, and beautiful. But its a dilated vision, over real and harsh. If "Leaving Las Vegas" left you cold, so will this collection.

Reading Johnson feels like a visit to an acupunturist; he chooses his words precisely, like needles, to stir dead feelings and revive your imagination.
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on 30 June 2002
Meandering through a minefield of metaphors, obscure similies and thought-provoking observations, Jesus' Son takes the reader on a trek through the dark and, at times, seedy past of the hero, known only as F*** Head - presumably Mr. Johnson's former self before turning his hand to writing. A bleak and at the same time nihilistic journey of an American drifter, down the path of lost hope and self destruction. Denis Johnson's prose is filled with a sensitivity which somehow manages to bypass sentimentality and is both irritating and sleazy, yet somehow beautiful and awe-inspiring. For these stories alone (somehow his other works seem to fall into the banal category of "another novel by...") Mr. Johnson should earn his place alongside other American greats such as Richard Brautigan, Richard Price and Whitely Strieber.
Personally I was given Jesus' Son many years before the unfortunate celluloid version was produced and it has since been one of the few literary treasures I have come to rely upon as a bible.
---- similar reads: Ladies' Man - Richard Price, Billy - Whitley Strieber, Sombrero Fallout - Richard Brautigan
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on 2 October 2004
I had heard great things about this guy, but was never keen. The synopses put me off, and the back cover did the same for me this time. I'm glad I ignored myself. Yes, it is a tale of junkies and losers, but the riffing is infectious. What elevates it beyond a style exercise, is what elevates all writing to the level of literature. Laced through the text are gems about what it is to be alive - they stop you and send you back to savour them a second, third time, and two pages on, you find yourself flipping back yet again. Ignoring myself once more, it's not about junkies, it's about me.
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on 21 October 2012
In a way these separate stories mesh together to make a loose novel. There's a central character who struggles with his addictions, friends, women and all the other crap that life throws in his way. Bad things just seem to happen to him. In the end he's in rehab and starting perhaps to sort himself out.

These stories are told with brutal honesty, candour and deadpan, laconic directness in prose that makes Hemingway look ornate, and Cormac McCarthy, soft. There's a strange innocence about his druggie characters, however, and a charm that's absent from more self-obsessed 'alternatives' like Kerouac. These guys aren't trying to be cool; they're just trying to get through the day in one piece. Brilliant, disturbing, powerful.
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on 2 December 2007
Meandering through a minefield of metaphors, obscure similies and thought-provoking observations, Jesus' Son takes the reader on a trek through the dark and, at times, seedy past of the hero, known only as F*** Head - presumably Mr. Johnson's former self before turning his hand to writing. A bleak and at the same time nihilistic journey of an American drifter, down the path of lost hope and self destruction. Denis Johnson's prose is filled with a sensitivity which somehow manages to bypass sentimentality and is both irritating and sleazy, yet somehow beautiful and awe-inspiring. For these stories alone (somehow his other works seem to fall into the banal category of "another novel by...") Mr. Johnson should earn his place alongside other American greats. Amazing work.
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on 29 May 1998
Jesus' Son is a terribly depressing and hopeless work. Mr. Johnson shows us a vision of America through the eyes of a (sadly) postmodern character: burnt out, a criminal and an adict.
Despite the hopelessness, I remained enthralled by what I suppose to be Mr. Johnson's skillfull turning of English and his seeming struggle to evince meaning from a meaningless world.
The final story I thought ALMOST made the entire reading worthwhile. Mr. Johnson presents his junkie protagonist fighting to escape the quagmire of depravity, convinced of the reality of (at least) beauty, and in the midst of rehab. Through his peeping-tom-ish final escapade, Mr. Johnson, through his character, gives the reader a refreshing and unique picture of the Universal Man and His creature, if as Aquinas says, it is disquised as the creature's longing for joy.
In the end, I don't feel myself better off for having read this book. I don't deny Mr. Johnson's genius (he is one of the best writers I have read in a while), but most of these stories are depressingly depraved and hopeless. It is, sadly, a marvelous depiction of the end result of postmodern American culture.
My recomendation: pick up the book and read the first and (particularly) last stories. It will save you a week or so of suicidal tendancies.
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Jesus' Son is a collection of interlinked short stories, setting out the young adult life of an American man as he drifts between girls, jail and the next fix of smack. The opening story finds our anti-hero hitching a ride, having a vision of death coming to the family that gives him a ride. At this point, one wonders whether our anti-hero might actually be Jesus' Son - actually have some kind of deity status. But future stories confirm that he is only human, named, presumably, after a line in Lou Reed's Heroin.

The stories are atmospheric, creating a window on America's underbelly. The characters are all real people and demonstrate complex emotions - no mean feat in stories that are only half a dozen pages long. They are violent, but there are also moments of compassion, of rationality, of decency. The stories sort of piece together into a story, told in non-sequential chunks, as our anti-hero progresses from youth to adulthood. But along the journey, some of the immediacy is lost. The barroom fights and drunken night-time drives are far more interesting than settling down with the girl.

And a further issue is that, even though there is a narrative progression, it starts to feel samey after a while. It would be interesting to see how a writer of such obvious talent could manage a novel where the option of restarting every few pages was no longer an option - where pacing was necessary.

I would read more Denis Johnson but, perhaps, not for a while...
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on 9 October 2006
My journey to this book travelled from Chuck Palahniuk to Amy Hempel, both incredible writers capable of transmitting emotion and atmosphere in their work.

This book delivers this beautifully, a sometimes painful image of life some readers may not get the point at first, but luckily its the kind of book you'll read over and over again.
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on 12 April 1997
Denis Johnson's "Jesus' Son" is a wonderful collection of short stories that contains two masterpieces of short fiction: "Car Crash While Hitchhiking" and "Emergency." Other memorable stories in this selection are "Dirty Wedding" and Beverly Home." While it is rumored that the former head of the Stegner creative writing program at Stanford, has said that Johnson's work does not qualify as "moral fiction," such criticism is irrelevant. While I have no idea what Johnson's background is besides his also being a poet, let me assure you, Johnson is not one of the creative writing school guys and gals churning out boring mood pieces for Masters of Fine Arts dissertations. While this work would not qualify as transgressive fiction and lies just a needle-length to the east of the "South of No North" of Charles Bukowski, there is the rawness and vitality of real life here, of the alky, the junky, of the fuck-up, the part-time pervert, of the loser that is really quite wonderful in that it has clearly been earned and is honestly observed. Johnson's dialogue is superb; check out the exchanges in "Emergency" for a primer on how to write dialogue truly. Not only is Johnson's dialogue true in the sense of it capturing the rythms of the way people speak, it brilliantly evokes their inner state of mind by revealing their evasions. And, being a poet, Johnson has an impressive command of metaphor that is never false. Wonderful writing. Don't take my word for it: Johnson is the only writer volunteered by Saul Bellow himself as worth reading in his recent "Playboy" interview.
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on 3 March 1999
Denis Johnson does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into the world of off-beat characters. Many are under the influence of drugs and alcohol and their actions are mostly irrational to the average person. It is humorous but at the same time scary! I would recommend this book to anyone with a strange sense of humor.
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