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Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson

Jesus' Son (1992)

by Denis Johnson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,985533,400 (4.09)102
  1. 00
    Starve the Vulture: A Memoir by Jason Carney (whitewavedarling)
    whitewavedarling: Starve the Vulture is a memoir, and far removed from Johnson's fiction, but if you can handle and appreciate the content and the humor of one of them, you'll be glad to have found the second.
  2. 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.
  3. 02
    Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco (werdfert)

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Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
“The vine was different every day. Some of the most terrible things that had happened to me in my life had happened in here. But like the others I kept coming back.”

“That moment in the bar, after the fight was narrowly averted, was like the green silence after the hailstorm. Somebody was buying a round of drinks. The cards were scattered on the table, face up, face down, and they seemed to foretell that whatever we did to one another would be washed away by liquor or explained away by sad songs.”

This story collection, feels like a potent brew, cooked up by Ken Kesey, Charles Bukowski and Lou Reed. A hallucinogenic stew of barflies, addicts, mental patients and misfits, living at the bottom or on the fringes of a derelict world. There is sadness and pain in these stories but there is also a glimmer of redemption. Obviously, this not for all tastes, some readers will flee in horror, but I found Johnson's wounded prose a transcendent joy.

“All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.” ( )
1 vote msf59 | Sep 7, 2017 |
JESUS' SON is a book in a class by itself. It's a little book of very short stories, but its language is what makes it unique. It's easy to see why so many of the late Denis Johnson's fans cite this as their favorite of all his work. I'm tempted to say, maybe it's because it's so short, so they don't have to devote much time to it. I read it in just a few hours, and it only took me that long because I kept pausing to enjoy - to savor - its rich imagery, its unusual descriptions. Here's a sample -

"The mild spring evening, after several frozen winter months, was like a foreigner breathing in our faces. We took our passenger to a residential street where the buds were forcing themselves out the tips of branches and the seeds were moaning in the gardens." ("Two Men")

Or here's another -

"Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn't know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That's what gave her such power over us. The doctor took her into a room with a desk at the end of the hall, and from under the closed door a slab of brilliance radiated as if, by some stupendous process, diamonds were being incinerated in there." ("Car Crash while Hitchhiking")

One more -

"I'm sure we were all feeling blessed on this ferryboat among the humps of very green - in the sunlight almost coolly burning, like phosphorus - islands, and the water of inlets winking in the sincere light of day, under a sky as blue and brainless as the love of God, despite the smell, the slight, dreamy suffocation, of some kind of petroleum-based compound used to seal the deck's seams." ("The Other Man")

Prose like this, scattered like jewels in all the stories - well, it's like poetry, extremely accessible poetry, poetry that works.

But it's not all just beautiful language. Because the unnamed narrator (other than a nickname, F***head), is a hardcore abuser - of drugs, alcohol and women. A man living on the edge as he moves from state to state - Iowa, Arizona, Washington, etc. Not an admirable character, but an utterly human, unapologetic one. Sometimes using, sometimes in rehab or a hospital, drying out or going through detox, he's never anyone but himself. In one story, "Steady Hands at Seattle General," he confides to a fellow patient that he's a writer. One wonders, however, how a druggie like this could possibly be a writer.

Denis Johnson knows about his subject though. After some early success as a poet, he lost the better part of two decades using and abusing drugs and alcohol, before he finally cleaned up and came back to writing, giving us several more fine books. He amassed a huge reader following. He died in May of this year of liver cancer, just 67.

The book's title, by the way, comes from a line in a Lou Reed song. The song title? "Heroin."

I understand now why JESUS' SON was included in a list of best American fiction of the last 25 years. This is a very powerful little book. And hey, it's short too, if that'll sway you to read it. But be forewarned: it will haunt you. My highest recommendation. Thank you, and R.I.P., Mr. Johnson.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
1 vote TimBazzett | Jul 17, 2017 |
Another New Classic that does not fit the category of glad I read it. Bizarre actually. ( )
  deldevries | Jul 14, 2017 |
I miss this author already. Weird, grungy, harsh, dreamy and drug fueled. What more could you want. ( )
  doria | Jul 10, 2017 |
All pose, little purpose. Not sure why this has such a cult following. ( )
  dcmr | Jul 4, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
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When I'm rushing on my run
And I feel just like Jesus' Son...

-Lou Reed, Heroin
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:30 -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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