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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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.]
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.
“Displays a wicked sense of fun.” Sarah Weinman, The Washington Post
“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.” Sam Coale, Providence Journal
“A hard-boiled, modern shoot-'em-up in which nobody's hands are clean but everyone gets great lines.” Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
“Reads like a Coen brothers movie waiting to happen, a cross between Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men.” Andrew Ervin, The Miami Herald
“The God I want to believe in has a voice and a sense of humor like Denis Johnson's.” Jonathan Franzen
“We can hear Twain in [Johnson's] bitter irony, Whitman in his erotic excess . . . An amazingly talented writer.” Vince Passaro, Newsday
“Good morning and please listen to me: Denis Johnson is a true American artist.” Jim Lewis, The New York Times Book Review