mini-review · stuff I read

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories by Denis Johnson

35135343Summary from Goodreads:
A new story collection, the first since his seminal Jesus’ Son, from “the most essential writer of his generation” (Los Angeles Times), a National Book Award winner and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Twenty-five years ago, Denis Johnson published Jesus’ Son, “a work of spare beauty and almost religious intensity” (Entertainment Weekly), which remains a touchstone today, ardently beloved by readers and writers alike. Included in The New York Times’ list of the “25 Best Books of the Last 25 Years” (alongside Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral), it is routinely described in the press as the single most important and influential book of short stories in a generation.
Now, after years of writing novels and plays in a very different mode, Johnson returns to the short story form that first catapulted him to the highest pedestal of American writers. Though the subject matter — middle-aged life and the elusive and unexpected ways the mysteries of the universe assert themselves — finds Johnson in new territory, the style is pure, vintage, inimitable Johnson.
Taken together, the stories in this powerful and deeply felt collection are Denis Johnson at his absolute best, the highest-caliber work of an American master.

I was late to the Denis Johnson party. I’d never quite got to him. And then he passed away, rather unexpectedly last May, which prodded me to finally read Train Dreams. Which broke me for a little bit. The announcement of a final story collection was an opportunity to read another of Johnson’s books.

“It’s plain to you that at the time I write this, I’m not dead. But maybe by the time you read it.”
– “Triumph Over the Grave”

Hot damn.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is a short book composed of five killer stories. From reading other reviews, it appears that Johnson continued or concluded story strands left from his previous story collection Jesus’ Son. I haven’t read that collection, obviously, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything story-wise. These five stories are gritty, obsessed with old hurts, past transgressions, and unfulfilled dreams. The third story, “Strangler Bob,” is set IN the Johnson County Jail, which is two blocks from the UI where Denis Johnson once taught.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.  It’s also my staff rec right now at the store.


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