The Name of the World

I heard one of the stories from Denis Johnson’s Jesus’s Son on either Selected Shorts or the New Yorker’s short story podcast, I can’t remember which. I was in Beijing in early February, walking about a mile in the snow to take a bus to go to a subway to meet a friend at a hostel near the center of the city. After that, I kept my eye out at used bookstores with no luck.

Five months later I was working in a frozen food warehouse and a co-worker told me there was a box of books he was getting rid of in his truck. I picked this up, along with a handful of others. It’s not considered one of his best, but it’s one of the better books I’ve read this year.

At 129 pages, it’s hardly a heavyweight, but it reads slowly. The prose is remarkable on a sentence level, deliberate and powerful. I found some of the tropes to be irritating (older professor working in academia encounters a beautiful-but crazy art undergrad who seems so much more alive than he is), but so little of the impact of this book derives from plot anyway. Highly recommended, but maybe check out Jesus’s Son, or Train Dreams if this is your first encounter with Johnson.



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