Here are two complete audiobooks by Denis Johnson, narrated by Will Patton. Listen to both Train Dreams, and Jesus’ Son, as well as an excerpt from Denis Johnson’s National Book Award-winning Tree of Smoke.
In Train Dreams 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—this new novella by the National Book Award-winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.
Jesus's Son, recently adapted for the screen, is a now-classic collection of 10 stories from the author of Resuscitation of a Hanged Man and Angels. The stories are narrated by a young man, a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, whose dependencies have led him to petty crime, cruelty, betrayal, and various kinds of loss.
©1992 & 2002 Denis Johnson (P)2011 Macmillan Audio
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"I Should Have Disliked These Stories"
Trains Dreams was a slow, immersive story that artfully unfolds a story of aman's simple life. I thought I would not care for a story of a man who seemed to have no introspection, but as I read more deeply, I began to understand how well this character was wrought. On the surface he and the supporting characters appeared two-dimensional; but now I believe the author was writing with the simplicity of the times and demonstrated how people truly interacted and presented themselves. What is so uncanny about this novella is observing how the character's true self was revealed so subtly, almost to be missed, if the reading was not attended to more closely.
Jesus' Son--why would I care about a manipulative, opportunistic lost soul as the main character? Written in the first person, I felt like this was the author's real-life story and I did not like him. But the writing was mesmerizing, and for every reprehensible action or discussion the character embarked on, I was transported by the poetic narrative. A purely wonderful experience. And somehow as the character, in such simple steps, attempts to redeem himself, he becomes sympathetic and an individual to be cared about.
Both stories so masterfully written. The narration in both instances was spot-on, a beautiful voice that characterized his subjects with a straightforward but empathetic understanding.
"Two Brilliant Novellas Read Brilliantly"
“Frost had built on the dead grass, and it skirled beneath his feet. If not for this sound he’d have thought himself struck deaf, owing to the magnitude of the surrounding silence. All the night’s noises had stopped. The whole valley seemed to reflect his shock. He heard only his footsteps and the wolf-girl’s panting complaint.”
― Denis Johnson, Train Dreams
So, I've just read my second great American novella set in Northern Idaho. 'Train Dreams' isn't A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, but it travels similar territory. Just different actors and a different experience. It reads like the Spring sun had just risen on Cormac McCarthy's prose.
If you can describe any novel of less than 120 pages as epic, this novel would own that group. The story seems to float like a gossamer-thin cloud across the sky of the late 19th and early 20th century. It captures horizon-to-horizon the struggles and the dreams that disappeared as horses were replaced with cars and planes, and trains traveled back and forth.
“All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.”
― Denis Johnson, 'Jesus' Son'
Sometimes while reading this I thought I was reading Burroughs (just not so dark), other times J.G. Ballard (just not so cold), sometimes even Palahniuk (but with more of a poet's heart). It was madness, a fever dream, tied together with beauty. It was fragments of insanity stitched together with the stars. And sometimes the night of this novel was so dark, I couldn't see the stars, and the blood all looked black.
I didn't personally like it as much as 'Train Dreams', but that was just personal preference. I can see how some readers would absolutely adore it. It felt like I was looking at a painting of blood or a beautiful photograph of a corpse. I was both attracted to and repelled by the art and the vision.
"Unique American voice"
Both these books reveal a special voice in American literature, a perspective at once recognizable and distinctive.
Train Dreams explores the mindset of America as seen through a man's trials in developing the country, establishing a partnership, and interacting with the landscape.
Jesus' Son similarly explores the mindset of a distinctly contemporary creature, the modern addicted youth with little direction or self-awareness. The Mennonite couple's ordinary difficulties and the sense of possible redemption for the protagonist made for compelling listening, particularly with the book's infusion of humor.
"Inheritors of the kingdom of heaven"
Characters, protagonist, much more than being a living projection of poverty of the soul and the physical, the ideal Christians. Interesting read. The stream is developed well, touches ambiguous "things within the collective unconscious. For imitators of Johnson, the fault is in the disregard and misunderstanding of the love of depravity and drugs, drugs humanize the characters and are therefore a norm but also a reality to reach the point where the reader can connect to the story by "I am alive".
Yes - certainly Train Dreams. The story affects you long after you stop listening. The writer has a very delicate touch, never descending to sentimentality or mawkishness.
Granier; a simple man's interaction with the world told with such dignity and pathos. Some scenes, like the fire, or the worlf girl, really affected me.
I listen to a lot of Will Patton's work, mainly because I am addicted to his readings of James Lee Burke's novels. He is always brilliant. The cadence and tonality in his voice here is quite different to the JLB material. Granier's story is told with a breathy tenderness that I just loved. On foot of getting addicted to his readings of JLB's work, I have seen a lot of Patton's film work and he has extraordinary range and nuance, which clearly spills over to his readings.
"One of a Kind.. Top Shelf"
I just have the audio version
I enjoyed all of the characters. I loved the talent and sa v v y of the author Denis Johnson.
Hope he writes more stuff. I'll buy it.
Did he do Water for Elephants? If so yes. Will Patton was perfect for the characters in Jesus' Son . Did a great job on Train Dreams also.
"Lighting time on fire just to watch it burn..."
If you like boring unrelated vignettes unified by a single bland character, you'll love this.
I did not listen to Jesus' Son but Train Dreams was excellent. The voice of the narrator was perfect for story. The story itself was great and I won't give away the end but I found it to be perfect.
There is only really a single character so I would guess it was that one. There are other characters but they do not play a huge role in the story.
As is true of most audible books I think the human voice, and Will Patton's in particular, brings something that is just not present in when I read.the
I thought the end was stunning. I didn't cry but only because my son was sitting next to me in the car.
Worth the price (or at least it's worth one of my annual tokens).
"Honed prose and a solid performance"
Denis Johnson is a writer's writer--in all the good ways. Jesus' Son was and still is one of my favorite books, an elegant pile of deceptively simple stories of youthful addictions and desperation.
Train Dreams recreates the memories of an isolated, hard working life that none still living possess. In the early half of the past century, Robert Grainier works first as a logger and migrant construction worker before he is forced to sublimate his grief (over the sudden loss of his family) into the simple acts of homesteading work and odd jobs, and in those efforts, he works through the loss that still haunts him.
These books are good and worth your time. The narrator of this recording, Will Patton, chews the words carefully and owns each moment on the page.
"Set in Northern Idaho"
I was interested in Train Dreams because it is set in northern Idaho, near my home. I also wanted a taste of Denis Johnson's writing before hitting his bigger work. I am not sure that I will follow-up on Johnson's work. These left me luke-warm on his work.
That is the missing element -- not much memorable.
He did a good job.
No. Better to start over.
This review sounds more negative than I intended. The stories were good and creative, just not remarkable. (Isn't that what we want? Remarkable?)
"A Modern Clasic"
Train Dreams is one of those American novellas - like Billy Budd, Member of the Wedding or The Pilgrim Hawk - that one can read again and again and find ever more wonderful things in, and Will Patton is the voice of Denis Johnson; you can hear the pleasure he takes as the prose rises and falls to rise again. This edition with both the novella and the stories from Jesus' Son is essential listening and re-listening.
"Beautifully written and beautifully read."
Such extraordinary writing, beautiful in the detail and Will Patons voice is so rich and spell binding, any review from me couldn't do it justice.
Denis Johnson is one of the greatest and most original writers I've had the pleasure to read. The two works generously offered in one audiobook here show two distinct facets, although both with a common thread of beautiful mysticism entwined with the gritty everyday. The narration by Will Patton is excellent, his delivery is wonderful and his voice perfectly suited to the words. Very highly recommended.
Other reviewers here have articulated the qualities of these two very different works. If you only like a 'proper story' you probably shouldn't bother.
The exquisite pleasures here have little to do with what happens and everything to do with originality of language, imagery and superb reading.
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