Already Dead: A California Gothic

Already Dead: A California Gothic

by Denis Johnson

Paperback(Harperperennial ed.)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060929091
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/19/1998
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Harperperennial ed.
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 584,166
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.01(d)

About the Author

Denis Johnson is the author of The Name of the World, Already Dead, Jesus' Son, Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, Fiskadoro, The Stars at Noon, and Angels. His poetry has been collected in the volume The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly. He is the recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and a Whiting Writer's Award, among many other honors for his work. He lives in northern Idaho.

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Already Dead
A California Gothic

Chapter One

August 7, 1990

Van Ness felt a gladness and wonder as he drove past the small isolatedtowns along U.S. 101 in Northern California, a certain interest, a yearning,because he sensed they were places a person could disappear into. They feltlike little naps you might never wake up from—you might throw a tire andhike to a gas station and stumble unexpectedly onto the rest of your life,the people who would finally mean something to you, a woman, an immortalfriend, a saving fellowship in the religion of some obscure church. Butsuch a thing as a small detour into deep and permanent changes, at the time,anyway, that he was travelling down the coast from Seattle into MendocinoCounty, wasn't even to be dreamt of in Van Ness's world.

The side trip he took off 101 into Humboldt County only proved it. He desertedhis route at Redway, went five miles west to Briceland and from there ahalf dozen miles to the Mattole River and past an invisible town (he sawonly a one-room school in the corner of a field) called Ettersburg, andthen switched back and forth along mountainous terrain another few milesto a dirt road that cut through the King Range National Forest.

Bucking slowly in his Volvo down the steep zigzag track among dusty redwoods,Van Ness glimpsed the sky above the sea but not the sea. He stopped fortwo minutes at an elbow of the road overlooking the decline and ate a packof cheese-flavored crackers and whisked the crumbs from his long mustache—handlebarsarcing down into a monstrous Fu Manchu and serving, along with thick rimlessspectacles, almost to obliterate any personality from his face. Thecrackerswere the last of his food. He tossed the wrapper onto the floorboard anddrove on.

Vaguely he wanted to accomplish some small cleansing of himself in thisremote area known as "The Lost Coast," wanted to fast beside thePacific and lie on his back all night within hearing of the ocean's detonationsand look up at a meteor storm: between ten and thirty-five stars were expectedto fall every minute that night, according to the weather report on hisradio.

But when he reached the shores of the Pacific, he realized he'd only managedto find the back way into a place called Shelter Cove, a vast failed housingdevelopment on the isolated coast, hundreds of tiny empty lots set amongasphalt streets with green signs on poles—Clam Avenue, Beach Drive, andso on—shaken and speckled by the sandy wind. Half a dozen actual homesfronted the beach, and a few overturned runabouts, and a delicatessen, butreally almost nobody had ever lived here. The sea burned in its heartlessblueness while overhead flew helicopters filled, according to news flasheson his radio, with National Guardsmen and agents of the federal governmentconducting a massive raid on the marijuana patches in the unpeopled hillshe'd just driven through. Van Ness bought his lunch in the deli and complainedsilently to himself about the weak coffee and the gull droppings on thepicnic table. The only person he talked to was a pretty woman who sworeat him because, as he walked past her table to the trash can, she droppedher sunglasses, and he stepped on them. The glasses were unsalvageable.He gave her fifteen dollars, although she claimed they'd cost twice that.Van Ness was back on the main highway again just a few hours after leavingit. He'd circled back to the town of Redway, the point where he'd turnedoff. The whole pointless excursion had a way of sealing his mind even furtheragainst any notion that great changes might beset him unexpectedly. Andyet later he encountered the woman, Winona Fairchild, again, more than once;and eventually these encounters forced him to acknowledge the reality offate, and the truth inherent in things of the imagination.

A California Highway Patrolman pulled him over on a stretch of 101 he hadto travel before he would reach Leggett and turn west again toward the coast.Van Ness knew he'd been speeding; he did it habitually, compulsively. Hecarried a passenger at the time, a teenaged girl dressed after the styleof Lithuanian peasants, in a long skirt, bright scarf, and sharply pointedpurple shoes, her name a poetic creation possibly designating a flavor ora scent, like Rainbow Day or Temple Jasmine, but it had escaped his memoryeven as she'd said it. Except for the introductions, she and Van Ness hadn'ttraded ten words since he'd picked her up hitchhiking by the Texaco in Redway,at which time he'd said to her, "Welcome, Fantasy Lady."

Now he wished he hadn't said it. When the young patrolman stooped down besidethe driver's window to peer within and ask for the license, the hippie girlleaned toward him over Van Ness's lap: "Is it about another ten milesto Leggett?"

"Yes, ma'am, little over eight miles," the patrolman said.

"He's really scaring me," she revealed suddenly.

"Who?" the patrolman said.

"This man," she said. "He made remarks. He touched my thigh."

"When?" asked Van Ness. "When I was reaching to the radio?That was an accident."

The policeman concentrated intensely, irrelevantly, on Van Ness's license."Are you friends, you two people?"

Van Ness said, "No," and the girl said, "I was hitching."

"Go stand beside my car," the patrolman told the young woman.

Van Ness turned off the ignition. "I feel sick about this," hetold the officer as they watched the girl walk, slightly pigeon-toed, towardthe spinning lights of the squad car in her purple shoes. "I reallyfeel confused. I didn't do a thing. Look, I know I'm no Casanova."

"Were you watching your rate of speed?"

"Yes, yes—I mean," Van Ness agreed, "I was definitely speeding,yes, sure. But this? No."

Already Dead
A California Gothic
. Copyright © by Denis Johnson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Already Dead: A California Gothic 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
gabebaker on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This is a big, sprawling West Coast sort of a mess. You can almost smell the pot smoke wafting out from between the pages. The characters and situations are larger and more colorful than life, you know, like how things look when you've got a righteous buzz on. Yes, it's confusing at times. Yes, it could be tighter. But in true DJ style, Already Dead's surface craziness mask an fascinating look at the connection between the spiritual and the hedonistic.
nkmunn on LibraryThing 11 months ago
parts of this are great, and some of the scenes could happen in no other setting between people from no where else in the world. Another reviewer said it better than I can " literature has to be more than just wild characters with wild stories" I wasn't exactly expecting great literature when I picked this up and I was surprised by the book's literary intent, but I'd still rather read [practical demonkeeping] for the tenth time.
railarson on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Welcome to the Hotel California ¿Johnson must not think much of Northern Californians, the entire cast of Already Dead is misogynistic, drug addled, possessed by demons, or just flat-out insane. That¿s not to say that it¿s not an enjoyable read, his use of language is often stunning, it¿s just that there isn¿t anyone in the book to root for. Halfway through the 435-page novel, I was hoping a tidal wave would just sweep all of them out into the Pacific Ocean. And yet ¿And yet I just kept reading.
EnriqueFreeque on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Rarely does one encounter fiction which transports the reader completely outside themselves, immersing them in vividly captured landscapes of Redwoods & rolling ridges rising out of hazy Pacific waters in the distance; it's as if we're right there ourselves, a character, viewing the Lost Coast of Northern California through our own eyes and not the eyes of Denis Johnson's creations. Each time I opened Already Dead, I forgot about my life and what I had been or was about to be doing. I was transfixed in the reading, completely in the moment, page by page, word by word. I wasn't reading so much as going out-of-body, watching events transpire around me. No, I'm not stoned on incense and marijuana, like so many of the ruined lives in Already Dead. High art transports its audience outside themselves, and Denis Johnson is high art in my book; he has an amazing ability to take us into lives and landscapes composed from the material in ephemeral eternities, places where we get pleasantly lost, where realities blend with the surreal so that the former becomes indecipherable from the latter, and new perspectives, world views are forged. I could blather on about the plot, the much praised poetic language, how the Lost Coast of California's a perfect metaphor for the lives Johnson describes -- and these are all indeed vital elements worthy of discussion and analysis (and they're discussed elsewhere here in LT) -- but these elements pale in impact to what Already Dead elicits out of its more sympathetic readers: an almost altered state of consciousness; a state of what amounts to Zen meditation; spiritual transcendence. I've never considered myself a spiritual/mystical person, but I''ve discovered that in reading Denis Johnson and Already Dead, I may be more the mystic than I ever realized.
Hagelstein on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With language that is luminous at times, Johnson contrasts the beauty of coastal Northern California with the substance and rage induced behavior of some inhabitants. Although not really a crime novel there is plenty of crime to go around. Johnson mostly concerns himself with the demons in his characters and how most of them unsuccessfully attempt to keep them at bay, or not.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Coming from Jesus' Son, Already Dead was much stranger than I expected. It does take a while to get into, is perhaps overly long/wordy in some spots, and is certainly a complex a read, but the reading experience as a whole is an interesting engagement with both language and character. There are passages that I found myself rereading--either to catch my place, or to simply revisit the language, and the writing overall is pulled together so tightly that it's easy to lose yourself in the story and the flow of time that the author sets up. For anyone who'd enjoy something a little bit strange and a little bit dark with some incredible writing along the way, I'd recommend this highly--just pick it up when you have some time to devote to it. This isn't one of those books you can read two pages of one day, a few pages the next, and a few more a few days later.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Some fiction tries to find the universals of what we know, find a path through which to say 'we are none of us alone' and touch the heart. Other fiction seeks out and walks along the edge of the collective human experience. This book falls in that second category. In this book, Johnson is clearly trying to apprehend and distill a particular human (or not so human) understanding of what is real and what is deadly. I'm not sure he succeeds, but the clarity of his wordsmithing and and the poignancy of his characters is achingly evocative to me. Stanislavsky (major theater teacher) used to talk about 'dead theater,' the form of theater in which form overrules communication and kills the heart. From this book, I'd say Johnson thinks there is such a thing as 'dead life' as well, a way of living that is so preoccupied with getting through the day and its challenges that whatever is real and vital about life has no chance of being lived. Johnson describes this by creating characters who live passionless extremes by rote, characters who ache for that vitality but are too afraid to go look for it, and characters who have died and been replaced in their living by some animus of animosity. Parts of the book are chilling in describing these forms of dead. A few other parts are just as successful in describing the sacred, the joyous, the touchingly beautiful. And his characters are complex and well-developed, many of them with a language and a voice all their own. While the wording is well-crafted, the characters multilayered and the thematic content sufficiently transparent without being overbearing, the plot wanders and dodges. Because of this the book fails, in the end, to cohere.