Over the Grave


Photograph by Kenya Allmond.

From The Guardian:

If the circumstances of a not-untypical Denis Johnson character are defined by the story The Starlight on Idaho – “on” not “over” because it’s actually a rehab facility and Idaho is the name of a street – then a likely destiny is laid out by the narrator’s grandma: “You’ll end up buried in a strange town with your name spelled wrong on your grave.” This warning has, nevertheless, a certain allure of its own– a beat-down version of Keats’s “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”

Johnson’s death in May of this year, aged 67, made clear the discrepancy between the way his name was writ in America – large – where his wayward originality was part of a recognised tradition, and the fervid but limited support he enjoyed in the UK. His big novel was Tree of Smoke (Vietnam, CIA), but his best books were probably the shortest: The Name of the World (a weird campus novel), Train Dreams (an epic of the history of the American northwest in 116 mind-blowing pages), and the very druggy, highly influential story collection Jesus’ Son.

Some of the stories in The Largesse of the Sea Maiden pick up where Jesus’ Son left off in 1992. Fuckhead, the quaintly named narrator of those stories, had a fondness for his $60 Chevrolet on the grounds that it was “the kind of thing you could bang into a phone pole with and nothing would happen at all”. Strangler Bob in the new book opens with a similar bit of automotive nous: “You hop into a car, race off in no particular direction, and blam, hit a power pole. Then it’s off to jail.”

“The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson – review”, Geoff Dyer, The Guardian