Friday, November 23, 2007

Sulking In Denis Johnson's Shadow

Frederick Buechner once began a review of Flannery O'Connor by admitting his reluctance to read her. Too many people kept saying, "Oh, you really should!" and drawing comparisons between his writing and hers. Someone finally cornered him on it, though, and his review went on to admit to the pleasures of her artistry and insight. But when I finished reading his essay, I couldn't help thinking this was meant to be his final word on the matter. "Okay, I've read her; now can we talk about something else?"

Denis Johnson is someone I want to read, while simultaneously wishing I could just avoid him altogether. I never finished Jesus' Son because I kept thinking, "Argh! Wish I'd done that!" I've managed a few pieces of his journalism, and somewhere I have a copy of Already Dead: A California Gothic, which I'm hoping will ease my Kem Nunn-induced jones for violent, California-based weirdness. Of course, the trick is cracking open the spine and bracing myself for prose I wish I'd written.

My hesitancy shouldn't be your hesitancy, though. Here's a smashing review of his latest novel, Tree Of Smoke — a book that is sure to adorn my bookshelf, because it already haunts me.


dave_lull said...

Just for balance, here are two differing opinions:

"Bloat gives eighth book volume, but there's little substance."

"A Bright Shining Lie."

Whisky Prajer said...

Some worthy reading there, DL, thank you. I always take Meyers seriously (even though he hasn't written anything half so good as Bellow). But when Krup resorts to "His best-known work, Jesus' Son, takes its title from Lou Reed's Heroin, and that tells you everything you need to know" ... aaaaah, I'm sorry, but he's got to work a little harder for my nickel.