Nobody Move

Nobody Move

3.4 20
by Denis Johnson, Will Patton

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From the National Book Award–winning, bestselling author of Tree of Smoke comes a provocative thriller set in the American West.
Nobody Move, which first appeared in the pages of Playboy, is the story of an assortment of lowlifes in Bakersfield, California, and their cat-and-mouse game over $2.3 million. Touched by

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From the National Book Award–winning, bestselling author of Tree of Smoke comes a provocative thriller set in the American West.
Nobody Move, which first appeared in the pages of Playboy, is the story of an assortment of lowlifes in Bakersfield, California, and their cat-and-mouse game over $2.3 million. Touched by echoes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, Nobody Move is at once an homage to and a variation on literary form. It salutes one of our most enduring and popular genres—the American crime novel—but does so with a grisly humor and outrageousness that are Denis Johnson’s own. Sexy, suspenseful, and above all entertaining, Nobody Move shows one of our greatest novelists at his versatile best.

Editorial Reviews

Sarah Weinman
The brevity of this novel limits Johnson's scope, but he still has room for zingers…observations of human nature…and an extended gunfire sequence that plays like an outtake from Tree of Smoke. Nobody Move does not rank as a major work, but enjoy it for what it is: an idiosyncratic journey through familiar terrain.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Lowlifes have never had it this good. Will Patton delivers a flawless reading of Johnson's novel of life on the lam. Patton, whose narration of Johnson's Book of Smoke was honored with an Audie Award, lowers his voice to a purring world-weary, chain smoking growl. He embodies each character with absolute authority-gambling addict Jimmy Luntz, on the run from kingpin Juarez, Juarez's bumbling strongman Gambol and the alcoholic karaoke aficionado, Anna Desilvera, who has the FBI on her tail. Listeners will be hooked-and quite possibly in stitches-from the first sentence of Patton's virtuosic performance. A Farrar, Straus & Giroux hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 12). (Apr.)

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Library Journal

Johnson follows his epic Vietnam novel, the National Book Award-winning Tree of Smoke, with this slight noir novella. On impulse, gambling addict Jimmy Luntz shoots and wounds the enforcer Gambol when he comes to collect for loan shark Juarez. On the run, Jimmy crosses paths with the beautiful but alcoholic Anita Desilvera, whose lawyer husband has divorced her, embezzled $2.3 million, and framed her for the crime. A violent cat-and-mouse game through northern California follows as Jimmy and Anita try to take the embezzled money while avoiding Juarez and his henchmen. Originally serialized in Playboy, this combines Jim Thompson's violent noir, a shot of sexuality, and Elmore Leonard's darkly comic characters but falls short of better work by any of those writers. Deeply flawed but surprisingly likable characters are the highlight in what is otherwise a minor effort, devalued by a muddy plot and a hasty, forced ending. This is an adequate but not necessary selection that will most likely find readers in libraries where Johnson already has an audience. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/09.]
—Neil Hollands

Kirkus Reviews
After his award-winning Vietnam epic, Johnson takes a busman's holiday with this hard-boiled genre exercise. While his previous novel Tree of Smoke (2007) elevated Johnson to a new level of renown, here he seems to take great delight veering toward the gutter in a fast-paced, dialogue-driven crime novel that explores the baser instincts of some California grifters. Instead of more glamorous Los Angeles or San Francisco, Johnson sets his novel in the environs around Bakersfield, where petty gambler Jimmy Luntz finishes as an also-ran in a barber-shop chorus competition. Then he realizes he's an even bigger loser, as he stumbles into the too-obviously named Gambol, who has tailed Luntz to collect a gambling debt. Luntz leaves Gambol with a wound that Johnson describes as "a purple lipless exploded mouth in his flesh" (Mickey Spillane has nothing on this novel) and escapes to encounter a ravishing divorcee who is also on the run. "You're interesting every way there is," he tells her, after drunken sex and a revelation concerning her involvement in the disappearance of two million dollars. She later tells him, "I like a bad man who hates himself." There are no good guys, or gals, in this novel. And there's no mystery, with police peripheral to the plot. Instead, Johnson seems to be paying homage to and subverting the conventions of the era of pulp fiction at its seediest. Originally published in Playboy, the novel serves as a stopgap before his return to greater literary aspirations. As one character tells another after learning about the death of a third, "In a hundred years we're all dead."There's some dirty fun here, but plenty of authors are better at this sort of novel.
David Abrams
In the square-jawed, barking-gun world of American noir fiction, there are rules to follow, past masters to emulate. Imitations and knockoffs are as easy to spot as the dames who'll trade loyalties for cheap liquor and the promise of a one-way ticket out of Nowheresville. The good examples of neo-noir hit you like a fist to the solar plexus: even as you crumple to the floor, you know you're being worked over by a master wordsmith. Elmore Leonard, for instance, has built a career out of these literary one-two punches. Scott Phillips's The Ice Harvest is another example of a contemporary novel that expertly connected every dot first drawn by James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich, Jim Thompson, and a handful of other founding fathers of the hard-boiled crime story.

Now comes Denis Johnson's Nobody Move, and it enters the pantheon of crime fiction kicking down the door and spraying the room with the kind of prose that would make Dashiell Hammett jealous. Set in contemporary Northern California, it reads like a pulp classic from an era where all men wore hats, action trumped introspection every time, and -- in an unfortunate by-product of the time -- women were relegated to the roles of prostitutes, girlfriends, or secretaries. Plotwise, there's little here we haven't seen before: a gambler in debt up to his kneecaps falls in with a femme fatale while trying to sidestep the gunmen on his trail. It's in the telling where Nobody Move rises above the cheap noir wannabes. This is a novel that snaps its sentences like a stick on a snare drum and barrels through 200 pages with the accelerator pressed to the floor.

The grim world of violence and betrayal will come as little surprise to fans of Johnson's novels and short stories. Jesus' Son, Tree of Smoke, and Already Dead are books mired in the thick clay of nihilism and ambiguity but soar to exhilarating heights with Johnson's unfettered style. Nobody Move may not have the heft of the Vietnam War magnum opus Tree of Smoke; but at one-third the length, it is nearly as shattering.

In the novel's first pages, we meet Jimmy Luntz as he's coming offstage after performing in a barbershop quartet. This first impression of Jimmy quickly proves incongruous. It's not long before the white-tuxedoed barbershop singer has been replaced by someone resembling Humphrey Bogart with a scruffy two-day beard. Johnson never tells us what harmonic part Jimmy sings in the barbershop group, but I'd like to think it's a high, quavery tenor. Jimmy, as we soon learn, is a tough guy of the equivocating sort, a gambler who is never sure when he'll get his next lucky break. Throughout Johnson's novel, those breaks are as few and far between as gas stations on a remote desert highway.

Jimmy is on the wrong side of a man named Juarez, who has sent his trusted henchman, Ernest Gambol, after Jimmy to collect the debt. Meanwhile, Jimmy is ensnared by Anita Desilvera, a woman who's been framed for extortion by her louse of a husband. In the matter of two dozen pages, the stage has been set for a tense dance of pursuit, evasion, sex, revenge, and hair-trigger violence.

Some of the most potent bloodshed in Nobody Move takes place off the page. Truncated scenes begin as characters' ears are ringing from gunshots or gore is still being sopped up from the front seat of a stolen car. As with the greatest moments of Tree of Smoke, readers will find there's a certain poetry to the violence in these pages: "The man lay motionless in the narrow space between the counter and the stove, shirtless and barefoot, facedown. Gambol took aim, holding the weapon with both hands, took note of his breathing, and in the space between his out breath and in breath squeezed the trigger carefully. The head broke open." Elsewhere, a wound is described as "the purple lipless exploded mouth in his flesh."

There's such an economy of language in Nobody Move that we watch the action flick past and wonder if there are gaps in the film; but Johnson is so damned crafty, he makes the stuttering flow of narrative feel as natural as Gambol's in-out breathing. Our imagination fills the interstices between the words and we grasp what the characters are all about in the space of just a few jarring images. There is smart alchemy at work here.

Consider, for instance, our first introduction to Anita, when we see her stopping for relief (and a nip of vodka) in the cool dark of a movie theater showing a boxing movie:

While men on the screen beat each other's faces to pieces she sat in the dark and got thirty percent drunk and found a kerchief in the pocket of her overcoat and buried her face in it and wept with greater abandon. There was really no other place for the wife of the Palo County prosecutor to gulp down booze and grieve. They'd taken everything but the car. When her watch said ten minutes till noon she made her way to the washroom and got her face back together and ran a brush through her hair and went out to the glaring street.

Johnson does in four sentences what it would take other writers 20 pages to describe.

Nobody Move is steeped in film noir trademarks -- from the snappy dialogue to the jump-cuts between scenes, all the way down to the title itself, which sounds like a command growled by George Raft as he bursts into a room with a loaded gun. It's nearly impossible not to hear Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck when you read lines like these:

He yanked the shotgun from the duffel.
"Okay. We're gone."
"Gone where?"
"There's no way to go," he said, "but the way we're going. I know how it ends, but there's no other way."

At some level, I suppose you could make the argument that Johnson is writing a pastiche of classic noir. All the archetypes are here: the femme fatale, the defeated hero, the wronged gangster, the dangerous-but-sensitive henchman, the moll, the lug, the palooka. Johnson has already written the Great American Vietnam War Novel; why not try his hand at another genre?

Author's intentions aside, the novel succeeds on multiple levels -- as parody, as existential neo-noir, or as a flat-out entertaining thriller that easily holds its own against Chandler and Hammett. By the novel's final scene -- where a battered Jimmy buys a lottery ticket and a pack of his favorite cigarettes, Luckies -- we've been so thoroughly transported, we can almost taste that bittersweet smoke, too. --David Abrams

David Abrams's stories and essays have appeared in Esquire, Glimmer Train Stories, The Greensboro Review, and The Missouri Review. He's currently at work on a novel based in part on his experiences while deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army.

The Washington Post Sarah Weinman
Displays a wicked sense of fun.
Providence Journal Sam Coale
A short, tight, grimly funny dark crime-comedy about losers, hustlers, alcoholics, murder, lowlifes, and a sexy broad with a heart of ice. I loved it.
Newsday Vince Passaro
We can hear Twain in [Johnson's] bitter irony, Whitman in his erotic excess . . . An amazingly talented writer.
Jonathan Franzen
The God I want to believe in has a voice and a sense of humor like Denis Johnson's.
The New York Times Book Review Jim Lewis
Good morning and please listen to me: Denis Johnson is a true American artist.
USA Today Bob Minzesheimer
A hard-boiled, modern shoot-'em-up in which nobody's hands are clean but everyone gets great lines.
The Miami Herald Andrew Ervin
Reads like a Coen brothers movie waiting to happen, a cross between Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men.

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Product Details

Macmillan Audio
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Read an Excerpt

Nobody Move

A Novel
By Denis Johnson

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

Copyright © 2009 Denis Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-22290-1

Chapter One

JIMMY LUNTZ had never been to war, but this was the sensation, he was sure of that-eighteen guys in a room, Rob, the director, sending them out-eighteen guys shoulder to shoulder, moving out on the orders of their leader to do what they've been training day and night to do. Waiting silently in darkness behind the heavy curtain while on the other side of it the MC tells a stale joke, and then-"THE ALHAMBRA CALIFORNIA BEACHCOMBER CHORDSMEN!"-and they were smiling at hot lights, doing their two numbers.

Luntz was one of four leads. On "Firefly" he thought they did pretty well. Their vowels matched, they went easy on the consonants, and Luntz knew he, at least, was lit up and smiling, with plenty of body language. On "If We Can't Be the Same Old Sweethearts" they caught the wave. Uniformity, resonance, expression of pathos, everything Rob had ever asked for. They'd never done it so well. Right face, down the steps, and into the convention center's basement, where once again they arranged themselves in ranks, this time to pose for souvenir pictures.

"Even if we come in twentieth out of twenty," Rob told them afterward, while they were changing out of their gear, the white tuxedos and checkered vests and checkered bow ties, "we're reallycoming in twentieth out of a hundred, right? Because remember, guys, one hundred outfits tried to get to this competition, and only twenty made it all the way here to Bakersfield. Don't forget that. We're out of a hundred, not twenty. Remember that, okay?" You got a bit of an impression Rob didn't think they'd done too well.

Almost noon. Luntz didn't bother changing into street clothes. He grabbed his gym bag, promised to meet the others back at the Best Value Inn, and hurried upstairs still wearing the getup. He felt the itch to make a bet. Felt lucky. He had a Santa Anita sheet folded up in the pocket of his blinding white tux. They started running at twelve-thirty. Find a pay phone and give somebody a jingle.

On his way out through the lobby he saw they'd already posted the judgments. The Alhambra Chordsmen ranked seventeenth out of twenty. But, come on, that was really seventeenth out of a hundred, right?

All right-fine. They'd tanked. But Luntz still had that lucky feeling. A shave, a haircut, a tuxedo. He was practically Monte Carlo.

He headed out through the big glass doors, and there's old Gambol standing just outside the entrance. Checking the comings and goings. A tall, sad man in expensive slacks and shoes, camel-hair sports coat, one of those white straw hats that senior-citizen golfers wear. A very large head.

"So hey," Gambol said, "you are in a barbershop chorus."

"What are you doing here?"

"I came here to see you."

"No, but really."

"Really. Believe it."

"All the way to Bakersfield?"

That lucky feeling. It had let him down before.

"I'm parked over here," Gambol said.

Gambol was driving a copper-colored Cadillac Brougham with soft white leather seats. "There's a button on the side of the seat," he said, "to adjust it how you want."

"People will be missing me," Luntz said. "I've got a ride back down to LA. It's all arranged."

"Call somebody."

"Good, sure-just find a pay phone, and I'll hop out."

Gambol handed him a cell phone. "Nobody's hopping anywhere."

Luntz patted his pockets, found his notebook, spread it on his knee, punched buttons with his thumb. He got Rob's voice mail and said, "Hey, I'm all set. I got a lift, a lift back down to Alhambra." He thought a second. "This is Jimmy." What else? "Luntz." What else? Nothing. "Good deal. I'll see you Tuesday. Practice is Tuesday, right? Yeah. Tuesday."

He handed back the phone, and Gambol put it in the pocket of his fancy Italian sports coat.

Luntz said, "Okay if I smoke?"

"Sure. In your car. But not in my car."

* * *

Gambol drove with one hand on the wheel and one long arm reaching into the back seat, going through Luntz's gym bag. "What's this?"


"From what? Grizzly bears?" He reached across Luntz's lap and shoved it in the glove compartment. "That is one big gun."

Luntz opened the compartment.

"Shut that thing, goddamn it."

Luntz shut it.

"You want protection? Pay your debts. That's the best protection."

"I agree completely," Luntz said, "and can I tell you about an uncle of mine? I have an appointment to see him this afternoon."

"A rich uncle."


Excerpted from Nobody Move by Denis Johnson Copyright © 2009 by Denis Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Nobody Move 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fun, fairly forgettable read. But even Lite Johnson is better than most.
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Timhrk More than 1 year ago
Denis Johnson has always been influenced by noir fiction, and even wrote a screenplay based for a film of a Jim Thompson novel, and a noirish novel, Resuscitation of Hanged Man. Nobody Move is a nice respite from his last novel, which was long and multi-layered and a thorough exploration of the Vietnam War. Nobody Move, written in the minimalist style of Jesus Son, is a straightforward thriller that begins with a botched extortion incident then evolves into a wild ride of revenge. The characters are well drawn and the ending a surprise. Not his best, but not as bleak as Jesus's Son. As a long time Johnson fan, I was satisfied. The reader feels the fun the writer is having with this homage to pulp. Please visit:
Speedygi More than 1 year ago
Nobody Move is a four part story originally published as a serial in Playboy Magazine over the course of four issues (Jul 09 - Oct 09). It was what Denis Johnson described as an effort to create a noir, crime story in the vein of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Now it's all here in this wonderfully jacketed hardcover. Denis follows the Elmore Leonard school of writing by jumping into the story right away, leaving pretty much all the back story to the dialogue and the visual, narrative cues. The result you get is a flowing caper novel, like Denis was flying by the seat of his pants for pretty much the whole time. Jimmy Luntz, a barbershop chordsmen lead with an unhealthy fetish for lottery tickets, meets Gambol, a bounty hunter working for Juarez, a gangster with very deep connections. Very simple premise but as the story moves along at its leisurely pace, we see things aren't so simple. It becomes apparent Luntz never had the money in the first place, neither does he have the means to get it. But soon, he encounters a beautiful woman named Anita who just happens to have the means to acquire a large sum of money. She quickly becomes the target of pretty much all of them, essentially making her the hook of this story. All of this delivered in clear-eyed prose peppered with Denis' usual sarcastic tone. He managed to meld the crime, noir voice with his usual style (as seen most prominently in Jesus' son) and it was a delight to read. And because he had a strict word limit, the prose had to be spare, which turned out to be especially suitable for the noir, crime style shown here. His descriptions were among the most imaginative and he has a very funny tongue-in-cheek style which keeps things humorous and light-hearted. Plot wise, it was very difficult to guess what's about to happen next, this could be largely due to the on-the-fly nature of this story. Nothing happened the way I expected it to. Just when I thought something was going to happen, something entirely different happened instead. For an on-the-fly story this could be done to great effect, but it also leaves lots of plot holes, and that's what I noticed about the story. Some threads were resolved very carelessly, simply because they had to be. And because Denis likes to pepper details around, you'll occasionally find some things very difficult to figure out, at least initially. For example, the relationship between Anita and his father, it took me till part four before I started flipping back to get the details on that. Was that a good or bad thing? I don't know. I chalked that down to probably Denis' flamboyant writing sensibilities. That said, I loved the story enough to warrant a re-read but I can't help but think if Denis could do much better if he didn't have the periodical constraints. He did a good job anyway and that's what I think deserves mention more than anything else. Read it.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
If ever a group of people deserved each other, the characters in this novel pass the test. Well-written with insightful observations into human behavior, Nobody Move is an enjoyable read on a short flight.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JRobdau More than 1 year ago
great read have fun
SLBTex More than 1 year ago
Characters you don't care about, a tedious, reductive plot, ridiculous. Can't believe I spent any time at all with it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The language is very offensive. Do not recommend.