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Train Dreams: A Novella by Denis Johnson

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

by Denis Johnson

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6946513,712 (3.89)151
Title:Train Dreams: A Novella
Authors:Denis Johnson
Info:Picador (2012), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 128 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Pacific Northwest, Idaho, logging, trains, wolves, existential

Work details

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (2002)

  1. 00
    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 (62)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (64)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
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 |
This very short novella is a dreamlike look back at a drifter's life building train tracks, logging, and delivering largely in the Pacific Northwest, largely in the 1920s and 1930s (although some of the episodes are from when he was a child at the turn of the century or as late as the 1960s when he died). It transports you right into the world it describes: you can almost hear the clattering of the railroad, smell the sap from the trees and see the wildfires spreading up the mountain. There's not really anything in the way of plot and the other characters are not drawn particularly sharply, but that is not much of a hindrance in a work this length. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
The terse style fits this account of a spare early 20th-century life in Idaho and the northwest. The hard men, the tough women, very hard physical work but not very much comfort yet relationships can make you happy.

I can see the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy. Reminds me also of Alice Munro's recent collection that she strung together from what little she knew of her ancestors in Scotland, Canada and the US. But there's this wisp of the supernatural too: for example, the imagined Chinaman and the wolf girl that could be the daughter Robert thought lost in the prairie fire that killed his wife. The myths and otherworldly explanations from from Kootenai Bob, a Native American--the Native American,I should say--that is always a very peripheral figure. As I recall from a long ago class in regional Am lit, that's a characteristic of the Midwestern frontier genre, where settlers (often immigrants) are attempting to homestead, conquer the land: Native Americans are there, but usually on the periphery. They aren't dangerous or threatening usually. They're often farming, logging, fishing or doing whatever the settlers are but they tend to be especially good at it, better survivors.

The nearness of death by disease, fever or natural disaster. Freak deaths or accidents, like the man shot by his dog--humor running through,too--but of course nothing like hospitals or even real physicians nearby. There is also the proximity of evil people like the uncle who sexually abused his niece, whose father then killed her. That man will tell you that tale.

There's a brief exchange that sums up Robert's life and that of many other male settlers. Robert is helping a recent widow move far away to a town and her relatives, along with a rougher type that has the hots for her. She might be thinking Robert is a better prospect but

"you men are worn down pretty early in life. Are you going to marry again?"
"No. You just don't want to work any harder than you do now. Do you?"
"No, I do not."
A bit later she says. "I wanted to see if your own impression of you matched up with mine is all, Robert."
"Well, then."

Now she may well be only referring to physical wear and tear but we know that Robert also doesn't want to risk losing another wife or child. He grieves for years and years. He isn't the only one hiding wounds ( )
1 vote Periodista | Apr 26, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (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.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

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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