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Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
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Jesus' Son (1992)

by Denis Johnson

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1,695364,207 (4.12)67
  1. 00
    Between Nowhere and Happiness by Daniel Kine (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Like Jesus Son, Between Nowhere and Happiness follows a young artistic type through Heroin addiction and love.
  2. 01
    Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco (werdfert)
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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Denis Johnson’s short stories set a standard in the late 20th century that has rarely been equalled. The voices of his narrators are raw, unadorned (except when wonder is the only appropriate reaction), unpretentious, and unprotected. They are typically lost young men seeking solace or oblivion in drink or drugs or sexual release. Only rarely, as with George in the much-praised “Emergency”, does a character’s goodness supervene on his situation and lack of comprehension. More often Johnson’s characters have a surfeit of venial sins which burble into the mortal. You can find them at sad dives like the Vine tavern wearing medical bracelets cheating each other out of quarters. These are not the noble poor who sometimes populate Carver stories, or the unheralded but self-believing geniuses of Kerouac. They have very few redeeming qualities and are marked only by their drive for their next hit of whatever.

The writing is spare and lean and almost always surprising. Narrative cohesion is consistently undercut. It happens so often that the reader will wonder what is the point of such unreliable narrators. Truth, perhaps, is not meant to inhere in correspondence with the world, but rather with something created through the telling. A kind of narrative truth? Certainly the lack of fidelity to what really happened does not tell against our belief in these narrators. Indeed it may speak in their favour. At any rate it is a fascinating technique that you now see widespread. Johnson was not the first to employ such a strategy, but I think he does it better than many who came before.

Apart from “Emergency”, which sparkles like the gem that it is, I would also point to “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” “Two Men,” “Out on Bail,” “Dundun,” and “The Other Man” as especially worthy of note. But now that I’ve named nearly all of the stories in the collection, I might just as well go on and say that any of the rest would be equally well worth a read. The stories are short but many of them will stay with you a very long time. Recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | May 28, 2014 |
This is the funniest book in the universe, for a moment, then a page later it's unbearably sad. The story of drug addict told in electrifying prose. Short and powerful, highly recommended ( )
  alienhard | Mar 26, 2014 |
I would be the first to admit that my guilty book reading interest (I won’t go as far to say ‘pleasure’) is that of the ‘addiction, drugs, alcohol, mental health and/or messed up state’ genre. I suppose it comes from life and work experiences. I’m a social worker by background and for as long as I remember I’ve worked or studied in health and social care. I’m interested in the personal story, the human condition and often fascinated in how addiction impacts upon someones life, on those around them and the psychology of addiction. I am certainly not talking about glorification. With this in mind, it’s no surprise for me to say that I’ve read a number of fiction and non fiction in this area.

As is often the case, fiction seems to be more believable than non fiction and there is often an element of truth. I’m thinking The Drinker by Hans Fallada, Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton and of course Junky by William S Burroughs. Jesus’ Son almost makes it.

Jesus’ Son is a collection of 11 short stories all told from the experiences of the same person. It’s a very short book which can be read in one sitting. It can be confusing at times which is what I think it’s meant to be. It appears to be a well structured stream of consciousness (if that makes sense).

We don’t know the current age of the narrator, I’m not sure we even know the gender (assumed to be a man) and we are certainly not provided with reference to the time frame of when most of the stories happened. What we do know is that the narrator is a recovering addict although he does not explicitly inform us of this.

Each short story tells of a memorable occasion in his life be this an interesting person he met, where he was working or who he fell in love with. Maybe. In some stories the writing is vivid and graphic, although in the main it appears to tell of life which in reality is mundane and aimless. The physical act of drug use is mentioned fleetingly. The book mostly focuses upon the narrators actions whilst high, low and going through withdrawal from drugs and alcohol and it certainly provides us with the impression of the confusion and chaos in the mind of the narrator.

“We lay down on a stretch of dusty plywood in the back of the truck with the day light against our eyelids and the fragrance of alfalfa thickening on our tongues.
“I want to go to church” Georgie said.
“Let’s go to the county fair.”
“I’d like to worship. I would.”
“They have these injured hawks and eagles there. From the Humane Society” I said.
“I need a quiet chapel about now.” (p.63)


Jesus’ Son is a well written journal, quick to read and easy to confuse. I don’t understand why I remain unsure as to what I really think of the book. There is a lot of hype which surrounds it and I always seem to be a little out of step in such cases. I would guess that my expectations for the book were out of step having read a number of different books in this genre which left me feeling more fulfilled (for want of a better word). I’m left feeling that there are things I have missed and maybe I need to read the book again. Nonetheless, it’s very much subjective and I feel that Jesus’ Son remains a well thought out, well written chronicle. ( )
  lilywren | Mar 7, 2014 |
Despite myself I actually kind of got into this by the end. The stories are explicitly centered on one character, which gets around the problem of Lange's 'Dead Boys,' that all the protagonists are the same but meant to be different. It also means that the 'stories' that lack a plot, point, theme, structure and any interest whatsoever (and that's most of them, let's be honest) can be treated more like you treat the chapters in a novel which don't necessarily develop, but do contribute something else to the book. The great stories - Car Crash, Emergency, and Beverly Home - stand out all the more because the rest of them are so dull and pointless. In short, what looks to begin with like another glorification/damnation of junkie living turns out to be an admission that junkie life is deathly boring compared to what should be the dullness and cliched rubbish of 'rehabilitation,' 'detox' and narcotics anonymous.
The catch is that, as in every junkie book I've ever read and will ever read, the narrator or, at the very least, the protagonist, is an emotional idiot. Anything which isn't violently painful or pointless is gloriously salvific and splendiferous. The options in this world are suffering, or Disneyfied technicolor. Perhaps that's what addiction does to you. But a large part of the dullness of that life is the black and white nature of it. And it doesn't make for the best book. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I'm giving this book four stars if only because I've been giving out five stars too willy-nilly and it's gotta stop. Am I going to go back and reevaluate books I've already rated five stars? No, probably not. Because I AM LAZY.

That being said this book is great and I am a fool for not having read this sooner. Especially because I read Tree of Smoke and Train Dreams first. This book presents a world that I don't want to be a part of, yet I can't help but get the feeling that it is already all around us. It's scary, but the writing is beautiful.

You should read this book sooner rather than later, then you won’t feel foolish like I do. ( )
  dtn620 | Sep 22, 2013 |
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When I'm rushing on my run
And I feel just like Jesus' Son...

-Lou Reed, Heroin
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For Bob Cornfield
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A salesman who shared his liquor and steered while sleeping...A Cherokee filled with bourbon...A VW no more than a bubble of hashish fumes captained by a college student...And a family from Marshalltown who head-onned and killed forever a man driving west out of Bethany, Missouri...
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060975776, Paperback)

The unnamed narrator in Jesus' Son lives through a car wreck and a heroin overdose. Is he blessed? He cheats, lies, steals--but possesses a child's (or a mystic's) uncanny way of expressing the bare essence of things around him. In its own strange and luminous way, this linked collection of short fiction does the same. The stories follow characters who are seemingly marginalized beyond hope, drifting through a narcotic haze of ennui, failed relationships, and petty crime. In "Dundun" the narrator decides to take a shooting victim to the hospital, though not for the usual reasons: "I wanted to be the one who saw it through and got McInnes to the doctor without a wreck. People would talk about it, and I hoped I would be liked." Later he takes his own pathetic stab at violence in "The Other Man," attempting to avenge a drug rip-off but succeeding only at terrorizing an innocent family. Each meandering story--some utterly lacking in the usual elements of plot, including a beginning and an end--nonetheless demands compulsive reading, with Denis Johnson's first calling as a poet apparent in the off-kilter beauty of his prose. Open to any page and gems spill forth: "I knew every raindrop by its name. I sensed everything before it happened. I knew a certain Oldsmobile would stop for me even before it slowed, and by the sweet voices of the family inside that we'd have an accident in the storm."

The most successful stories in the collection offer moments of startling clarity. In "Car Crash While Hitchhiking," for instance, the narrator feels most alive while in the presence of another's loss: "Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn't know yet that her husband was dead.... What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I've gone looking for that feeling everywhere." In "Work," while "salvaging" copper wire from a flooded house to fund their habits, the narrator and an acquaintance stop to watch the nearly unfathomable sight of a beautiful, naked woman paragliding up the river. Later the narrator learns that the house once belonged to his down-and-out accomplice and that the woman is his estranged wife. "As nearly as I could tell, I'd wandered into some sort of dream that Wayne was having about his wife, and his house," he reasons. Such is the experience for the reader. More Genet than Bukowski, Denis Johnson lures us into a misfit soul's dream from which he can't awake. --Langdon Cook

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:29 -0400)

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Denis Johnson chronicles the wanderings of a young man as he struggles with addictions to drugs and alcohol. Separated into eleven stories, the young man eventually snaps out of his downward spiral and checks into rehab.

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