Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions.
Robert Grainer is a day laborer in the American West at the start of the 20th century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West—its otherworldly flora and fauna, its rugged loggers and bridge builders—the new novella by the National Book Award-winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.
©2002 Denis Johnson (P)2011 Macmillan Audio
“[A] severely lovely tale . . . The visionary, miraculous element in Johnson’s deceptively tough realism makes beautiful appearances in this book…The hard, declarative sentences keep their powder dry for pages at a time, and then suddenly flare into lyricism; the natural world of the American West is examined, logged, and frequently transfigured.” (James Wood, The New Yorker)
“An ode to the vanished West that captures the splendor of the Rockies as much as the small human mysteries that pass through them, this svelte stand-alone has the virtue of being a gem in itself, and, for the uninitiated, a perfect introduction to Johnson.” (Publisher’s Weekly)
“National Book Award-winner Johnson, ever the literary shape-shifter, looks back to America’s expansionist fever dream in a haunting frontier ballad about a loner named Robert Granier . . . Johnson draws on history and tall tales to adroitly infuse one contemplative man’s solitary life with the boundless mysteries of nature and the havoc of humankind’s breakneck technological insurgency, creating a concentrated, reverberating tale of ravishing solemnity and molten lyricism.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist)
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"A compact epic"
Lyricism that's reminiscent of James Lee Burke and Faulkner, and is therefore right in narrator Will Patton's wheelhouse. A novella of the opening and closing of the American West that can be enjoyed without "worldly interests intervening...[to] modify, annul or counteract...the impressions of the book," to quote Anthony Doerr (quoting Poe) in the New York Times.
"2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist"
The novella begins and ends with cries to others, in between Robert Granier is usually alone in the Pacific Northwest.
Why four and not five? A few word choices took me out of Robert Grainer's introspection, during shifts between descriptions of the valley and Granier’s thoughts, and the narrative leaps were jarring at times.
Will Patton does an excellent job. His voice is weary, optimistic, intelligent, detached. But this is a laconic open man, and while the characterizations are distinctive, Patton’s voice is better suited for Saigon (“Tree of Smoke”), New Orleans (James Lee Burke) or Manhattan (“Cosmopolis”).
(Train Dreams was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. For the first time since the 1970s, there was no award for Fiction.)
A complaint: the cover is a desaturated Thomas Hart Benton-like scene, a race between horse and Iron Horse across the dull lumpy prairie. It is misleading. The train dreams are not those of man against machine; this is not John Henry. I interpreted the title as a command: train your dreams.
Hate speech was hard to listen to. Even in a historical context. The story was uneven so I only got into the first hour of it.
"A short dull book"
For the money - this book is way too short.
It's poetic with lot's of great images being painted with words, but there's not enough dialogue. I feel let down because I've enjoyed some of his other books. Oh well...
"Mr. Johnson + Mr Patton = Priceless"
Absolutely without hesitation. This is the first audio book I have ever listened to two times in a row. .Patton is masterful once again. This may be one of his best performances. Johnson is hypnotic in both his language and his story. I have liked every book by Mr. Johnson starting with Tree of Smoke. This one is short but call it a 'small wonder'.
Before you know it each word, each line has pulled you unsuspectingly into a world you can not predict. You pick up your brain and look around and wonder how you got here....like a dream.
He breaths life and atmosphere into a the words and characters like no one else and is simply not possible with the written word.
Sorry. You do not mess with a masterpiece.
Simply a gem. Eagerly awaiting more from Johnson.
Yes, this is a book to read (or listen to). Three times now in the last couple of days to fully catch all the words - it's short. The lyrical quality resonates with images of the early 1900's in the North West. Haunting. You too may dream, hopefully of good things, maybe of the Spokane International, or of other creatures.
"Quirky and sometimes Surrealistic"
When I finish a work like "Train Dreams," I wish I could ask the author, "What? What story are you telling?"
I have trouble staying engaged with stories which seem quirky and disjointed. This may just be me and my preference of style.
Denis Johnson is a talented writer, and there are sections of "Train Dreams" which show his talent and skill. But the story doesn't stay focused and connected from chapter to chapter. Some are straightforward, some quirky, a few just surrealistic. I don't like stories with odd and unattached threads. A Native American who never drinks, then on the last day of his life gets drunk on beer and struck by a train. Where does this take the story? At the end I'm left with no clear picture of Robert Grainger. Was he unfocused? Was he an underachiever? Was he overwhelmed by a tragedy and the changing technology of his world?
I'm sure there are many Robert Graingers in the world, but I'm not interested in reading about them.
"Listening to Will Patton read Denis Johnson"
Can't say, haven't "read" it.
The writer's ability to use lyrics to tell his story.
Ain't going to say specifically. The loss of family and the description of a wildfire and its consequence isn'y exactly bland.
Not necessarily, but to my own surprise I found myself re-playing it from the beginning in the gym. Like a Dylan song, listening to the lyrics can be habit-forming. It's that good.
I was pretty tongue-in-cheek about Will Patton's tar-heel drawl, but I know he reads JL Burke pretty seriously and I give him top marks for interpreting what I think might be the best story written that I can remember.
"Beautiful and haunting writing- worth many listens"
The narration by Will Patton is truly excellent, and the writing is mesmerizing. This book is particularly recommended if you have any connection, however remote, to the Pacific Northwest. The story makes one reflect on the harshness of life in remote communities, and the writing was so strong the words quickly flowed by, leaving beautiful, sad images. You can finish the book in a couple of hours, but the images remain long afterwards.
I didn't laugh or cry, but was struck by the vividness of the writing.
"a sensory experience"
Trains pass through the backgrounds and incidents of the protagonist's life, making the reader increasingly compassionate to him. A good story well told.
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