A TAPESTRY OF DYSFUNCTION
Posted on August 24, 2018
By Denis Johnson
133 pp. Picador, $9.28
In this collection of short stories, which reads far more like a novel than a story collection, Denis Johnson takes us on a journey of addiction, sex, and violence through the eyes of an unnamed central protagonist. This character moves through a Cubist-like narrative structure, dealing with things like grisly car-wrecks and drug deals, but in the disjointed and almost-passive way that only an addict truly could.
The way that the story is constructed keeps the pacing relatively interesting, and despite Jesus’ Son being called a collection of short stories, the eleven gritty tales instead feel like eleven chapters of a book, half of which reference one another or are informed by one another throughout the relatively short read. So this lends itself to it being more of a novel than a collection. Still, that shouldn’t put you off it if you are a fan of short stories. Many of the “chapters” can stand on their own two legs, despite this.
The world in which the narrator inhabits is murky, hazy, and filled with allegorical characters that constantly make the reader second-guess the narrator’s mental faculties and point of view. Yet, at the same time, the realness and immediacy with which Johnson writes breathes true life into the work and you will come away thinking about it long after you put it down. Give this one a try, especially if you’re a fan of Burroughs.