Denis Johnson was an American writer best known for his short story collection 'Jesus' Son' and his novel 'Tree of Smoke', which won the National Book Award for Fiction. He was acclaimed for his poetic prose and exploration of the lives of characters on the fringes of society. Johnson's work often dealt with themes of addiction, grace, and redemption. He passed away in May 2017.
This list of books are ONLY the books that have been ranked on the lists that are aggregated on this site. This is not a comprehensive list of all books by this author.
1. Jesus' Son
The book is a collection of linked short stories narrated by a young, unnamed protagonist who struggles with drug addiction. The stories are set in various locations across the United States and are filled with surreal and sometimes violent experiences. Despite the bleak circumstances, the narrator seeks moments of beauty and grace, often finding them in unexpected places. The narrative is characterized by its disjointed chronology, hallucinatory descriptions, and dark humor.
"Tree of Smoke" is a war novel that explores the chaos, violence, and moral ambiguity of the Vietnam War. The story follows a diverse cast of characters, including a CIA operative, a young soldier, and a pair of missionaries, all of whom are trying to navigate the uncertainties and horrors of the war. The novel delves into themes of faith, fate, and the human capacity for both good and evil, offering a gritty and complex portrait of a turbulent period in history.
"The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories" is a collection of five short stories that explore the human condition in all its raw beauty and despair. The stories weave together themes of death, loss, and redemption, with characters ranging from an advertising executive facing a terminal illness to an incarcerated man reflecting on his past. The narratives are imbued with the author's signature blend of grit, grace, and dark humor, offering a poignant exploration of life's complexities and contradictions.
The book is a gritty, harrowing tale of two lost souls, Jamie and Bill, who meet on a cross-country Greyhound bus and form an unlikely bond amidst their personal turmoil. Set against the backdrop of America's seedy underbelly in the 1980s, their journey takes them from the East Coast to the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, where they become entangled in a world of crime and violence. The narrative explores themes of desperation, redemption, and the elusive nature of grace, painting a stark portrait of characters on the fringes of society, struggling to find their way amidst the chaos of their lives.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Florida Keys, the narrative weaves through a world ravaged by nuclear disaster and cultural amnesia. The story centers around a young boy, his music teacher, and their community as they grapple with the remnants of civilization and the myths that have risen in place of forgotten history. Through a blend of surreal encounters and the quest for identity and meaning, the characters navigate a landscape both physically and culturally transformed, where the past is a puzzle to be reconstructed and the future is an unwritten melody.
6. Train Dreams
The novella captures the life of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West during the early 20th century. Through a series of vignettes, it traces Grainier's experiences from his work on railroads and bridges to his personal tragedies, including the loss of his family and the profound changes in his way of life. Set against the backdrop of a rapidly transforming America, the narrative delves into themes of isolation, the ruggedness of the frontier, and the impact of industrialization on the natural world and the human soul. Grainier's story is one of quiet endurance and the haunting beauty of the landscape amidst the relentless march of time.