Jesus' Son

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Overview

Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life, and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. Set in the Midwest and West, they are narrated by a young man, an alcoholic and heroin addict, whose dependencies have led him to petty crime, cruelty, betrayal, and various kinds of loss. Many of them are centered around the Vine, a bar in an Iowa town where the narrator meets his friends and forms alliances "based on ...
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Jesus' Son

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Overview

Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life, and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. Set in the Midwest and West, they are narrated by a young man, an alcoholic and heroin addict, whose dependencies have led him to petty crime, cruelty, betrayal, and various kinds of loss. Many of them are centered around the Vine, a bar in an Iowa town where the narrator meets his friends and forms alliances "based on something erroneous, some basic misunderstanding that hadn't yet come to light." In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close, the stories in Jesus' Son offer a disturbing yet eerily beautiful portrayal of American loneliness and hope.
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Editorial Reviews

L.A. Weekly
In a world of predictable fiction, Jesus' Son is a point-blank godsend.
New York Times Book Review
His prose. . .consistently gnerations imagery of ferocious intensity, much of it shaded with a menacing, even deranged sense of humor. No American novelist since William Burroughs has so flagrantly risked 'insensitivity' in an effort to depict the pathology of addiction.
Newsday
Denis Johnson is an amazingly talented writer, a synthesizer of profoundly American voices: We can hear Twain in his biting irony, Whitman in his erotic excess, not a little of Dashiell Hammett too in the hard sentences he throws back at his gouged, wounded world. And behind all these you sense something else: a visionary angel, a Kerouac or, better yet, a Blake, who has seen his demon and yearned for God and forged a language to contain them both.
Marianne Wiggins
Reading these stories is like reading ticker tape from the subconscious. —The Nation
Atlantic Monthly
Denis Johnson's path as a writer—from poetry to the novel to the short story—is an untypical as his vision, but Jesus' Son may eventually be read not just as a moment in his evolution but as a distinctive turn in the history of the form. He is doing something deeply new in these stories, and the formal novelty brings us into a new intimacy with the violence that is rising around us in this country like the killing waters of a flood.
Michiko Kakutani
The narrator of these interlinked stories is a young man, reelig from his addiction to heroin and alcohol, his mind at once clouded and made gorgeously lucid by these drugs. Dreams blur into real life for this man, hallucinations mimic and merge with reality: a state of affairs that gives Mr. Johnson ample opportunity to display his dazzling gift for poetic language, his natural instinct for metaphor and wordplay. —New York Times
Los Angeles Times
Denis Johnson's most accessible and accomplished book, from start to finish, without a single sentence that misses the mark.
Madison Smartt Bell
These tales are told with apparent carelesness, a kind of grinding realism which would suggest that these events are as purposeless as they seem. But at heart Johnson is a metaphysician, and through the luminous windows that startlingly open in the deadpan prose. . .we are bystanders to an act of testimony. —USA Today
Mary Gaitskill
Intense, vicious, and beautiful, these storeis are fraught with a cutting wit purposefully juxtaposed against the too-big sentimentality of a drunk. Denis Johnson is an exquisite writer.
Entertainment Weekly
A work of spare beauty and almost religious intensity.
People
Johnson has the distinction of being both a poet and a novelist of gritty realism who uses language like a paring knofe to slice through to the bones of his subject matter....[These stories] are as muscular and tight as a washboard stomach, as resonant as a drum.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Taking its title from a line in Lou Reed's notorious song ``Heroin,'' this story collection by with-it novelist Johnson focuses on the familiar themes of addiction and recovery. In his novels, Johnson has shown his ability to transform the commonplace into the extraordinary, but this volume of 11 stories is no better than, and often seems inferior to, the self-destruction/spiritual rehab books currently crowding bookstore shelves. All of the tales, set in the Midwest and West, are told by a single narrator, and while this should provide unity and depth, instead it makes the stories fragmentary and monotonous. Some disturbing moments do recall Johnson at his inventive best, as when a peeping Tom catches sight of a Mennonite man washing his wife's feet after a marital spat in ``Beverly Home,'' or when the narrator 'fesses up to his fright in a confrontation with the boyfriend--``a mean, skinny, intelligent man who I happened to feel inferior to''--of a woman he's fondling in ``Two Men.'' But for the most part the stories are neurasthenic, as though Johnson hopes the shock value of characters fatally overdosing in the presence of lovers and friends will substitute for creativity and hard work from him. Even the dialogue for the most part lacks Johnson's usual energy.
Publishers Weekly
Will Patton, award-winning reader of Johnson’s oeuvre, brings to life his dark, drug-addled, tragicomic world. Each short story offers another vista on a lost, sorrowful American underworld where recurring characters stumble through dive bars, dead-end relationships, emergency rooms, car crashes, and petty crimes. Patton’s narration is pitch perfect; he produces voices for a collection of gritty, bent souls who spend their lost days riding buses, hitchhiking, breaking into abandoned houses, drinking at the Vine, and stealing pills from the hospital dispensary. An absolute must for Johnson fans and a fine introduction to the author’s work. A Picador paperback. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Set in the Midwest and West, these aggressively grim stories are linked by a common narrator--a young, nameless substance abuser of unspecified background and education. Like the other marginal and directionless individuals who populate these tales, he is locked into a downward spiral of booze, drugs, and petty crime, the squalor of his life emblematic of a more profound spiritual malaise. The best pieces--like ``Beverly Home,'' which concerns a recovering addict who spies on a Mennonite couple through their bedroom window, and ``Car Crash While Hitchhiking,'' which is exactly what the title implies--balance longing with despair, revealing the yearning for a kind of meaning ultimately lost to these lives. Johnson writes with hallucinatory brilliance, giving these stories a nightmarish edge. Bleak and disturbing, they are not for the faint-hearted.-- Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
Brad Hooper
Johnson's star is on the ascent. Though not vast, his output of novels and poetry has garnered much applause. Now Johnson extends the parameters of his achievement in this collection of short stories. The 11 stories presented here are linked by their common narrator, a down-and-out fellow who is often inebriated, a sometime felon, and a consistent roustabout. Eloquent simplicity--of narrative form and sentence structure--is Johnson's calling card as he places his antihero in contexts perfectly appropriate to his lifestyle: car wrecks, bar brawls, drug deals, and burglary. "He was in his 50s. He'd wasted his entire life. Such people were very dear to those of us who'd wasted only a few years," says the narrator about a friend; and the theme of wastedness that pervades all these pieces is, in the hands of such a resonant and amusing writer as Johnson, ironically ingratiating.
New York Times Books of the Century
...[A] tour de force of compression and moral entropy....even the sense of humor here seems deranged...all part of the admirable, startling art of this fearless detective of the tortured paths of Americans' moral lives.
From the Publisher
“Patton’s narration is pitch perfect; he produces voices for a collection of gritty, bent souls who spend their lost days riding buses, hitchhiking, breaking into abandoned houses, drinking at the Vine, and stealing pills from the hospital dispensary. An absolute must for Johnson fans and a fine introduction to the author’s work.” – Publishers Weekly

"Appropriately, Patton's reading is anything but warm and welcoming, but his delivery is so inescapably present that it draws listeners into the work and compels them to drop any preconceived notions about the protagonist and his life. The result is a memorable journey." - AudioFile, Earphones Award Winner

 

"Will Patton keeps matters interesting with his gruff yet puzzled narration, making his clueless characters just "with it" enough to stay sharp and real." - Winston-Salem Journal

 

“Will Patton is the growly voice of your audiobook dreams. His voice sounds like it’s wearing a beat up leather jacket and worn out jeans, which is perfect for Denis Johnson’s stories of drug adventures and smoky dive bars. Characters with a wild past deserve the kind of voice that may have made some questionable and risky decisions.” – BuzzFeed

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374178925
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 12/28/1992
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.02 (w) x 7.83 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

DENIS JOHNSON is the author of seven works of fiction, three collections of poetry, and one book of reportage. He is the recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and a Whiting Writers' Award, among many other honors for his work.

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Read an Excerpt

Car Crash
While Hitchhiking

A salesman who shared his liquor and steered while sleeping ... A Cherokee filled with bourbon ... A VW no more than a bubble of hashish fumes, captained by a college student ...

And a family from Marshalltown who headonned and killed forever a man driving west out of Bethany, Missouri ...

... I rose up sopping wet from sleeping under the pouring rain, and something less than conscious, thanks to the first three of the people I've already named—the salesman and the Indian and the student—all of whom had given me drugs. At the head of the entrance ramp I waited without hope of a ride. What was the point, even, of rolling up my sleeping bag when I was too wet to be let into anybody's car? I draped it around me like a cape. The downpour raked the asphalt and gurgled in the ruts. My thoughts zoomed pitifully. The travelling salesman had fed me pills that made the linings of my veins feel scraped out. My jaw ached. I knew every raindrop by its name. I sensed everything before it happened. I knew a certain Oldsmobile would stop for me even before it slowed, and by the sweet voices of the family inside it I knew we'd have an accident in the storm.

I didn't care. They said they'd take me all the way.

The man and the wife put the little girl up front with them and left the baby in back with me and my dripping bedroll. "I'm not taking you anywhere very fast," the man said. "I've got my wife and babies here, that's why."

You are the ones, I thought. And I piled my sleeping bag against the left-hand door and slept across it, not caring whether I lived or died. The baby slept free on the seat besideme. He was about nine months old.

... But before any of this, that afternoon, the salesman and I had swept down into Kansas City in his luxury car. We'd developed a dangerous cynical camaraderie beginning in Texas, where he'd taken me on. We ate up his bottle of amphetamines, and every 80 often we pulled off the Interstate and bought another pint of Canadian Club and a sack of ice. His car had cylindrical glass holders attached to either door and a white, leathery interior. He said he'd take me home to stay overnight with his family, but first he wanted to stop and see a woman he knew.

Under Midwestern clouds like great grey brains we left the superhighway with a drifting sensation and entered Kansas City's rush hour with a sensation of running aground. As soon as we slowed down, all the magic of travelling together burned away. He went on and on about his girlfriend. "I like this girl, I think I love this girl—but I've got two kids and a wife, and there's certain obligations there. And on top of everything else, I love my wife. I'm gifted with love. I love my kids. I love all my relatives." As he kept on, I felt jilted and sad: "I have a boat, a little sixteen-footer. I have two cars. There's room in the back yard for a swimming pool." He found his girlfriend at work. She ran a furniture store, and I lost him there.

The clouds stayed the same until night. Then, in the dark, I didn't see the storm gathering. The driver of the Volkswagen, a college man, the one who stoked my head with all the hashish, let me out beyond the city limits just as it began to rain. Never mind the speed I'd been taking, I was too overcome to stand up. I lay out in the grass off the exit ramp and woke in the middle of a puddle that had filled up around me.

And later, as I've said, I slept in the back seat while the Oldsmobile—the family from Marshalltown—splashed along through the rain. And yet I dreamed I was looking right through my eyelids, and my pulse marked off the seconds of time. The Interstate through western Missouri was, in that era, nothing more than a two-way road, most of it. When a semi truck came toward us and passed going the other way, we were lost in a blinding spray and a warfare of noises such as you get being towed through an automatic car wash. The wipers stood up and lay down across the windshield without much effect. I was exhausted, and after an hour I slept more deeply.

I'd known all along exactly what was going to happen. But the man and his wife woke me up later, denying it viciously.

"Oh-no!"

"NO!"

I was thrown against the back of their seat so hard that it broke. I commenced bouncing back and forth. A liquid which I knew right away was human blood flew around the car and rained down on my head. When it was over I was in the back seat again, just as I had been. I rose up and looked around. Our headlights had gone out. The radiator was hissing steadily. Beyond that, I didn't hear a thing. As far as I could tell, I was the only one conscious. As my eyes adjusted I saw that the baby was lying on its back beside me as if nothing had happened. Its eyes were open and it was feeling its cheeks with its little hands.

In a minute the driver, who'd been slumped over the wheel, sat up and peered at us. His face was smashed and dark with blood. It made my teeth hurt to look at him—but when he spoke, it didn't sound as if any of his teeth were broken.

"What happened?"

"We had a wreck," he said...

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Table of Contents

Car Crash While Hitchhiking 3
Two Men 15
Out on Bail 35
Dundun 45
Work 55
Emergency 69
Dirty Wedding 91
The Other Man 105
Happy Hour 117
Steady Hands at Seattle General 129
Beverly Home 137
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 29 )
Rating Distribution

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(18)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I am still alive!

    Read on the reviews anywhere for "Jesus' Son" - stories by Denis Johnson and you'll see the same things: amazing, life changing, a masterpiece.
    So I finally took the plunge!

    "Jesus' Son" is eleven short tales about drug addicts, low lifes and other miscreants. I thought the stories were good, not great. The writing is unique and as one reviewer blurb on the book says, "its like reading ticker tape from the subconscious" and thats a dead on description.

    Somewhere along the way, I read that Chuck Palahniuk said that "Jesus' Son" is one of his favorite books and that he often refers back to it when writing his own novels.

    The stories I really enjoyed-

    Car Crash While Hitchhiking
    Out on Bail
    Work
    Emergency
    Steady Hands at Seattle General
    Beverly Home

    Not your normal short stories by any means, but very good!

    ** A movie was made from this book, starring Billy Crudup, Denis Leary, Dennis Hopper, Jack Black & Holly Hunter, unfortunately the amazing cast did nothing for it, I do not recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2010

    Reminiscent of...

    The best of William Burroughs and Jean Genet, but with a lighter hand.

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  • Posted June 26, 2009

    Good read!

    Interesting stories for a few hours of reading pleasure.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

    Very good stories

    This collection of stories is fun and interesting. The characters are unique and funny, sad and reflective. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an unusual style of story telling and memorable characters. Very fun.

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Outstanding...

    I was totally blown away with this book. The short stories were amazing. Denis Johnson has the ability to make you feel like you are a direct part of the story, many authors lack this talent. Jesus' Son is a short and quick read, but yet powerful and lasting. I will definately read this one again. A+ for Jesus' Son.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2006

    this book is divine

    I can't repeat here. Throughout the book, he's battling inner demons but is still able to perceive divinity in the world. By the end of the book, he's born anew, having moved from self-centerdness to God-centerdness. At the beginning, life is all about him by the last story, he's serving others. This is an amazing book and will only be written once. I can't recall reading a book this lucid and theologically insightful. This was a major discovery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2003

    the fiction centerpiece right now

    this is it. this is where fiction is at its best right now. other-worldly & hard to describe. the book is the best description of its own self.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2003

    I may like it better on a 2nd read ...

    This collection of stories reminded me of Brautigan. Except Brautigan is more fun. But they grew on me. And he made me laugh at things I never expected. Strange little tales about neighborhood drug-addled thugs and sociopaths.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted September 21, 2009

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