Subscribe Sign up for our newsletter to get submission announcements and stay on top of our best work. Other than the forthcoming collection, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, and the possibility of a posthumous publication or two, there will be no new novels, no new stories, no new plays or poems. Thankfully, we have such a powerful body of work that it might last us all a long time. Very few books offer this kind of continually deepening relationship to the reader.
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Subscribe Sign up for our newsletter to get submission announcements and stay on top of our best work. Other than the forthcoming collection, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, and the possibility of a posthumous publication or two, there will be no new novels, no new stories, no new plays or poems.
Thankfully, we have such a powerful body of work that it might last us all a long time. Very few books offer this kind of continually deepening relationship to the reader. Denis Johnson was not my teacher or mentor. We did not have any correspondence; I was never introduced to him by our few mutual friends, and even though he was my favorite writer I never dared to ask for a blurb or any other kind of help.
For me, it would have been like asking God for a blurb: a purely fantastical notion. I met Johnson only once in person, a brief interaction that was extraordinarily embarrassing for me and probably twice as unbearable for him.
This outcome was my fault, not his. The relationship I had with Johnson was not a personal one, and yet from my end it was intimate, characterized by the great affection and appreciation we feel toward the writers of the books that mean the most to us. I can see exactly where the magazine section the Poets and Writers issue was, I can see the photo of Palahniuk on the cover still, and I remember it was also where I first heard of Colson Whitehead, who I also read soon thereafter.
Then I went back and ordered Angels. It seemed like Johnson was mine alone, and as I reread his books there was no one there to tell me how to read him, what the stories meant, what I should be feeling. Everything I discovered in his books seemed mine, even as I started pushing his books on friends, on my siblings, on anyone else who would listen. We would die with handcuffs on… And yet we were always being found innocent for ridiculous reasons.
Then, even more mercifully, Johnson showed me that it was possible to live with what was wrong with me too. I might never get rid of all the cruel and stupid parts of me, but surely there was beauty in me too, and whatever else happened, I would probably live, and if I lived, I might get better.
Not today, maybe, and not tomorrow either. But someday. It was enough. When I first read Johnson, I was unhappy but I was also newly hungry: hungry for bigger experiences, hungry for real wonder, hungry for proof that the world I could see could not possibly be the only world there could be. In truth, I was starving with want, every day consumed with a kind of awful gnawing I hope never to feel so acutely again. I thought it was something else. A clattering sound was tearing up my head as I staggered upright and opened the door on a vision I will never see again: Where are my women now, with their sweet wet words and ways, and the miraculous balls of hail popping in a green translucence in the yards?
We put on our clothes, she and I, and walked out into a town flooded ankle-deep with white, buoyant stones. More than anything else, losing my faith emptied the world: I had grown up among people who believed in the physicality of God and the angels, who believed that miracles and the intercessions of the saints were real, not metaphorical. Fuckhead tries to arrive by drugs and alcohol. So did I. Showing those same characters reach the sublime from within their fallen state — in other words, without insisting on redemption preceding reward — is seemingly much more difficult.
Almost no other contemporary writer does that as well as Johnson. The sublime is too difficult to reach, too fleeting to grasp for long. No one ever does. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it? But at least he left us his scrolls. And that was that. My one chance to speak to my hero, wasted. Just that: Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for being a writer capable of loving someone like Fuckhead or Bill or Jamie or any of the other unforgettable characters you invented.
To Denis Johnson, from One of the Weirdos
The narrator has a fascination with trains which he returns to after he asked to leave the abortion clinic where Michelle is undergoing her procedure. He follows this man to an all-night laundromat. The narrator overhears the man discussing with a friend the unjust accosting of "Benny" who was confronted by the cops after a man was murdered. The narrator is then addressed by the man but turns away who is at this stage bare-chested in a jacket , finding he has an erection. She takes him to the Savoy Hotel where the narrator becomes overwhelmed by the bleak goings on, finding something troubling and self-reflective. It is revealed Michelle purposefully overdosed to be found and saved by John Smith, but John Smith was too drunk to notice and found Michelle dead in the morning next to him in bed. The narrator turns almost reluctantly back to thoughts on the moral and ethical arguments surrounding abortion.
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