Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson is a compelling and haunting novella.  Originally published in The Paris Review in 2002 and then in the O'Henry prize recipient in 2003, the novella has been issued as a standalone hardcover this year.  Like several other compact novellas I have read this year, this one is worthy of reading.

In 1920, Robert Grainier, the story's main character, returns home from working on the railroad to find that the cabin he built and his wife and child were victims to a massive forest fire.  In simple and direct prose, Johnson decimates the reader.  Grainier grew up in the West in a natural world and lives his life attached to the rails.   After finding the devastation of the fire, Grainier, a decent and lonely man, suffers.  Without bemoaning his woes, Grainier brings to mind the story of Job and his suffering.  His quiet acceptance and the mild delirium he suffers as a result of the tragedy are beautifully portrayed by Johnson.

The novella was listed by the New York Times as one of the best books of the year.  It is a well deserved distinction.  You will be able to read this moving novella in a single sitting.  It is worth the time. 

Johnson reading from one of his other works:

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