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Train Dreams: A Novella by Denis Johnson
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Train Dreams: A Novella (original 2002; edition 2012)

by Denis Johnson

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7336612,758 (3.87)155
Member:albertgoldfain
Title:Train Dreams: A Novella
Authors:Denis Johnson
Info:Picador (2012), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 128 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

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Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (2002)

Recently added byalex913, AmCorSubotica, private library, krwerner, feca67, Xickie
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    Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter (zhejw)
    zhejw: Both short books are set in rural country in the early 20th century and involve a fire, a widower, and mysterious relationships with animals.
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English (64)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (66)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
The life of Robert Grainier, as depicted in Train Dreams, is probably not one that would expect to get so much attention. He is begat in unknown circumstances, orphaned or abandoned without any sort of clue as to why, marries and grows old without notoriety or infamy. Dealing with superstition and illusion seems mundane, and when faced with the unusual things that reality offers seems magical. Giving a plot summary would ruin this slim volume for you, so read on to hear my impressions.

Like a painting with an uninteresting central subject, Train Dreams is worthy in it's technique and expression. Robert is the every-man which we may impress ourselves onto, but as his life unfolds - as we stare at the details of the painting - we discover that he is not entirely usual.

When I picked this up in London, I supposed a book which crossed François-René de Chateaubriand with Ansel Adams, if that was possible. It was short, so I chanced it, and laid value in being shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize.

The first few passages were dull, were slightly shocking for no apparent reason, and Robert was completely unremarkable. Too late I realized that book prizes and awards never guarantee a book, and how many wonderful books had I read which weren't lauded? However, I continued on, and late one night, weeks later, back in my own bed, I stayed up into the night to finish it. Something had changed.

Was it Robert who had changed? When one reads a book more slowly, I've found that I notice more and appreciate development more acutely. Having had time to settle on Robert's naïvité and thoroughly middle-road personality. Liked well-enough and never badly spoken of, if he was spoken of at all, Robert is perposefully unremarkable. Yet, I don't think it was him who had changed. Life had changed around him, had he slipped out of its stream, lost his place in it, and in his confusion become an interesting subject?

I can imagine Johnson's purpose was to show us a way of life, and with such a passive main character, remain absent from the more offensive pieces of our past. The ending, where superstition mingles with supernatural and reality, doesn't seem to fit or Johnson didn't lead us into it well.

This novella was a series of vignettes about Robert, basically, and if you're into that, then for god's sake, here's the book for you! Maybe I wasn't the kind of smart to appreciate Johnson's clever prose. Maybe you've some insights to help me understand?

116pp. Granta Books. 2013.
  knotbox | Dec 1, 2014 |
Just started. Enjoying. And then when it went all magical realism suddenly I no longer did. ( )
  adrianburke | Sep 1, 2014 |
A spare, stark novel about the American mountain west in the first half of the 20th century with bits of historical research and magical realism dashed in. Impressed with how Johnson can make Robert Grainier's life so mundane and unimportant and singular and fascinating at the same time. Very good. ( )
  BooksForDinner | Jul 21, 2014 |
I hadn't reread this fabulous little book in some time, but I have always kept it handy, knowing I would want to return to its words. Walking past it the other day, I knew it was time to reread. Yet, always, in the back of my mind there's a little voice saying over and over, will it be as good this time?, and it truly was, in a major way. I marvel at how well this is written, just how much he can do, can express, with a few words ... it's masterful. ( )
  jphamilton | Jul 19, 2014 |
My interest strongly influenced by the fact that my maternal grandfather lived a similar life in the same period and met my mother's mother in Spokane, Washington in this era. ( )
  judgedee | Jun 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
Wie Treindromen leest, kan maar één reden bedenken - een armzalige - waarom dit boek geen prijs waardig werd geacht: de Pulitzerdames en -heren zullen het wel te dun hebben bevonden. Het beslaat inderdaad nog geen honderd pagina's. Maar in die beperkte ruimte presenteert Jonhson de rijkdom van een vuistdikke roman.
Treindromen is op een wonderlijke, knarsende manier zowel meedogenloos als vol compassie, een werk waarin Johnson zich een rauwe poëet en een meester van de suggestie betoont. Je moet wel een motherfucker zijn om zo'n boek geen Pulitzer Prize te gunnen.
added by sneuper | editde Volkskrant, Hans Bouman (Jan 26, 2013)
 
The denouement of Train Dreams is so tragic and surreal that the reader at first denies its grisly approach: yet when it comes, it is written with such credibility that it fulfils the book's theme, the collapse of the rational world for a decent man. Softly and beautifully, this novel asks a profound question of human life: is the cost of human society and so-called civilisation perhaps just too high?
The board of the Pulitzer prize for fiction failed to award it to the shortlisted Train Dreams – or to any work. Poor souls, cowering from the howls of the old American mountains.
added by sneuper | editThe Guardian, Alan Warner (Sep 13, 2012)
 
What Johnson builds from the ashes of Grainier’s life is a tender, lonesome and riveting story, an American epic writ small, in which Grainier drives a horse cart, flies in a biplane, takes part in occasionally hilarious exchanges and goes maybe 42 percent crazy.

It’s a love story, a hermit’s story and a refashioning of age-old wolf-based folklore like “Little Red Cap.” It’s also a small masterpiece. You look up from the thing dazed, slightly changed.
added by zhejw | editNew York Times, Anthony Doerr (Sep 16, 2011)
 
The visionary, miraculous element in Johnson's deceptively tough realism makes beautiful appearances in this book. The hard, declarative sentences keep their powder dry for pages at a time, and then suddenly flare into lyricism; the natural world of the American West is examined, logged, and frequently transfigured. I started reading "Train Dreams" with hoarded suspicion, and gradually gave it all away, in admiration of the story's unaffected tact and honesty.
added by zhejw | editThe New Yorker, James Wood (pay site) (Sep 5, 2011)
 
Train Dreams draws its title ostensibly from the fact that Grainier had “started his life story on a train ride he couldn’t remember, and ended up standing outside” another train, but it could just as easily stem from his early work experiences on the railroad, which “made him hungry to be around such other massive undertakings.”

By the end of the book, it seems as though this hunger has hardly been sated ― Grainier’s few celebrations are tiny and even his failures, while frequent, are never grand ― but Johnson’s accomplishment is grand, and this book, short as it is, feels like a massive monument to a deceptively simple life and the wilderness in which it was lived.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Denis Johnsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Polman, MaartenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century---an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this novella by the National Book Award--winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.
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Presents the story of early twentieth-century day laborer Robert Grainer, who endures the harrowing loss of his family while struggling for survival in the American West against a backdrop of radical historical changes.

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