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Jesus' Son (1992)

by Denis Johnson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,371634,379 (4.1)125
Denis Johnson's now classic story collection chronicles a wild netherworld of addicts and lost souls, a violent and disordered landscape that encompasses every extreme of American culture. These are stories of transcendence and spiraling grief, of hallucinations and glories, of getting lost and found and lost again. The insights and careening energy in Jesus' Son have earned the book a place of its own among the classics of twentieth-century American literature.… (more)
  1. 00
    A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin (wandering_star)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 02
    Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco (werdfert)

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» See also 125 mentions

English (62)  Spanish (1)  All languages (63)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
The vast majority of the world's purple prose is written about pain and suffering. Writers overly romanticize poverty, addiction, and despair to the point where a reader struggles to imagine how pain could be anything other than fierce and unrelenting. We know better, of course. Pain can be dull, suffering can be listless, and the worst of all human feelings can be the absence of any feeling at all. It's easy to forget that even the whirlwind life of a downtrodden addict isn't always about highs and lows.

In Jesus' Son, Denis Johnson presents a man whose life is worth examining for many reasons aside from its extremes. Over 11 short stories, our narrator reveals a personality that doesn't quite fit the profile on his would-be Wikipedia page. Many of his actions fall outside the boundaries of respectability (rightfully so), and Johnson never attempts to sell the reader on his creation. But after reading the whole story, I don't feel the narrator would even want to be defended. Were he held accountable for his actions, I doubt he'd be too upset. Despite his fall into poverty and addiction, he seems to hold few grudges and doesn't really blame anyone other than himself, and he never falls to wallowing in self-pity. Maybe its due to Johnson's style of prose or to the short story format, but the narrative never bothers to leave space for any of the narrator's baggage, which is unique among stories of this kind that I've read.

I appreciated the restraint Johnson showed with his prose. Many of the stories have a hallucinatory quality to them, feeling as likely to be something from the narrator's dreams as from his life. This aura made the moments of intensity in the book exponentially more powerful, and power's not easy to create in stories that are just a few pages long. Jesus' Son is an excellent example of making more of less, something I wish that a few of my favorite old Russians would have tried at some point. ( )
  bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
as dark and powerful as everyone says. ( )
  ThomasPluck | Apr 27, 2020 |
I felt a true kinship with Denis Johnson while reading this book. I felt inspired to write time and again reading these stories. I savoured them over a long stretch, not wanting the experience to be over. Johnson's prose rings with the realism of Raymond Carver, and he's a better poet.

You just...have to read this book. There's no one quote that will do it justice. ( )
  Cail_Judy | Apr 21, 2020 |
Jesus' Son took me for a much needed loop. The stories in here are all threaded together by a common narrator, set in different parts of the US, mostly midwest and Pacific Northwest. It wasn't so much the content but Johnson's controlled style and when he lets a bit of madness and beauty unfold that made this an outstanding collection to read. Reminded me of a tempered Hubert Selby Jr. in terms of content with more concentrated weirdness. ( )
1 vote b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
I was such a huge fan of the movie, I decided to read the book. I was pretty surprised at the difference in tone - the main character in the book isn't so much a starry-eyed dreamer as a bitter yet childlike addict. Kind of unsure how much I liked the book, but I'm glad I read it. Johnson has a distinctive kind of minimalist style. ( )
  DF1158 | Oct 20, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (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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