Denis Johnson’s “Train Dreams” and keeping/catching up


This novella got a lot of acclaim and critical attention when it came out, but I was just starting my undergrad work at that point and wasn’t really doing much to keep up with contemporary literature. Part of my motivation for reading 100 books this year is to get caught up on the heavy hitter of the last 10-20 years, and although I was already a familiar fan of Johnson’s work, I had been eagerly anticipating this particular reading. While it was sometimes unexpected, it met and exceeded my high expectations.

It’s a short read, but it’s the kind of engaging and quick-reading book that pins you to the couch for an afternoon (although I had the pleasure of reading it in its entirety in the beautiful Oregon forest of Silver Falls State Park, which, by the way, I would heartily recommend if it is even remotely convenient). The prose is everything I’ve come to expect from Denis Johnson,  and the plot drives the reader forward with relentless intent. I do believe that a different set of skills are called on to write a powerful novella.

It’s also the kind of book that will require a second read to fully appreciate. While I can offer my unreserved recommendation of the thing, I feel like I would be doing it a disservice by offering any more specific analysis until I have availed myself of a quality and much more deliberately paced re-read.

Recommendation: Read it. I give it all the stars available to me.

Train Dreams: A Novella
by Denis Johnson


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