Okay, so this was one of those reading experiences that everyone has had at some point: when you’re reading some critically acclaimed book that everyone says is great and is a modern classic but you can’t see what’s so awesome about it and end up wondering if you’re missing something, like an entire page that possesses all the book’s awesomeness.
Yea… this one didn’t work for me.
Jesus’ Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life unmatched in power and immediacy and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close to our own, the stories in Jesus’ Son offer a disturbing yet eerily beautiful portrayal of American loneliness and hope. (Goodreads)
Jesus’ Son is a book of short stories featuring an unnamed narrator. I believe the stories are semi-autobiographical. I picked it up at random at the library because I liked the cover and the small size of the book (it’s about the length and width of my hand). Plus, I read the first page and thought it sounded good. It’s about a guy on drugs living on the fringes of society, and that intrigued me.
But then I read the book and didn’t like it. Sure, it’s written well and is funny and I admired the author’s skill to pack about 11 stories in 180 pages, but I didn’t like the format. The stream-of-consciousness method has never worked well for me. There’s not one book that’s written in that format that I’ve read and liked. It’s so annoying to read. However, that method works well for Johnson’s stories because they are able to portray to the reader the haziness of the narrator’s thoughts and how fragmented his reality sometimes is.
But I hated it and was confused half the time. There was one point where I thought the narrator was having an out-of-body experience or was so fucked up that he thought he was experiencing two realities at once or something, but it wasn’t until I listened to this podcast that I realized the narrator was talking about his and his friend’s experiences and showing how they are similar. Smh, I was way off with that one. I think it was the “Out on Bail” story, which I actually kind of liked when I thought it was about an out-of-body experience.
Because of my struggle to understand what was going on in the story, I didn’t pay attention to much else and hardly sympathized with the narrator, though there were times when I felt sorry for him, like when he sat on some baby rabbits and killed them by accident. The way that situation was presented made it a little funny, though.
Anyway, of the stories, the only ones I liked were —
“Emergency” — that’s the one with the rabbits; I don’t know if I truly understand it, but I think it was a funny story. It’s not about the rabbits.
“Out on Bail” — I prefer my out-of-body version.
“Beverly Home” — I love the moment when the narrator is almost caught peeping on the couple and the woman’s reflection in the mirror prevents her from seeing the narrator; meanwhile, the narrator is outside spying on something he wants but can’t get — the tenderness of the couple’s relationship.
“Steady Hands at Seattle General” — it was funny too. And sad.
Overall: ★★☆☆☆ ½
I rate based on enjoyment because I read to be entertained. I didn’t enjoy this one, so it received a low rating. However, it is written extremely well and it is obvious that Johnson is a skillful writer.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I selected Bypass because my experience with the book wasn’t great. HOWEVER, if you are a writer or interested in writing, I think this is a book worth reading to see how well it’s written and how skillful Johnson is. Not a word is wasted.
Quotes from the book:
“The women were blank, shining areas with photographs of sad girls floating in them.”