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Works by
Denis Johnson
(Poet, Writer)
[1949 - ]

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Profile created May 21, 2009
Fiction
  • Nobody Move: A Novel (2009)
    From the National Book Award–winning, bestselling author of Tree of Smoke comes a provocative thriller set in the American West. Nobody Move, which first appeared in the pages of Playboy, is the story of an assortment of lowlifes in Bakersfield, California, and their cat-and-mouse game over $2.3 million. Touched by echoes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, Nobody Move is at once an homage to and a variation on literary form. It salutes one of our most enduring and popular genres—the American crime novel—but with a grisly humor and outrageousness that are Denis Johnson’s own. Sexy, suspenseful, and above all entertaining, Nobody Move shows one of our greatest novelists at his versatile best.

  • Tree of Smoke: A Novel (2007)
    "Once upon a time there was a war ... and a young American who thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally as simply the Fucking America. That's me." This is the story of Skip Sands—spy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Viet Cong—and the disasters that befall him on account of his famous uncle, a war hero known in intelligence circles simply as the Colonel. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert and into a war where the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, and its gritty, sympathetic portraits of men and women desperate for an end to their loneliness, whether in sex or death or by the grace of God, this is a story like nothing in our literature.

    Tree of Smoke is Denis Johnson’s first full-length novel in nine years, and his most gripping, beautiful, and powerful work to date.

  • Train Dreams (2002)
    Novella

  • The Name of the World (2000)
    Kindle Edition Paperback
    The acclaimed author of Jesus' Son and Already Dead returns with a beautiful, haunting, and darkly comic novel. The Name of the World is a mesmerizing portrait of a professor at a Midwestern university who has been patient in his grief after an accident takes the lives of his wife and child and has permitted that grief to enlarge him.

    Michael Reed is living a posthumous life. In spite of outward appearances -- he holds a respectable university teaching position; he is an articulate and attractive addition to local social life -- he's a dead man walking.

    Nothing can touch Reed, nothing can move him, although he observes with a mordant clarity the lives whirling vigorously around him. Of his recent bereavement, nearly four years earlier, he observes, "I'm speaking as I'd speak of a change in the earth's climate, or the recent war."

    Facing the unwelcome end of his temporary stint at the university, Reed finds himself forced "to act like somebody who cares what happens to him. " Tentatively he begins to let himself make contact with a host of characters in this small academic town, souls who seem to have in common a tentativeness of their own. In this atmosphere characterized, as he says, "by cynicism, occasional brilliance, and small, polite terror," he manages, against all his expectations, to find people to light his way through his private labyrinth.

    Elegant and incisively observed, The Name of the World is Johnson at his best: poignant yet unsentimental, replete with the visionary imaginative detail for which his work is known. Here is a tour de force by one of the most astonishing writers at work today.

  • Already Dead: A California Gothic (1998)
    A contemporary noir, Already Dead is the tangled story of Nelson Fairchild Jr., disenfranchised scion to a northern California land fortune. A relentless failure, Nelson has botched nearly every scheme he's attempted to pull off. Now his future lies in a potentially profitable marijuana patch hidden in the lush old-growth redwoods on the family land.

    Nelson has some serious problems. His marriage has fallen apart, and he may lose his land, cash and crop in the divorce. What's more, in need of some quick cash, he had foolishly agreed to smuggle $90,000 worth of cocaine through customs for Harry Lally, a major player in a drug syndicate. Chickening out just before bringing the drugs through, he flushed the powder. Now Lally wants him dead, and two goons are hot on his trail. Desperate, terrified and alone, for Nelson, there may be only one way out.

    This is Denis Johnson's biggest and most complex book to date, and it perfectly showcases his signature themes of fate, redemption and the unraveling of the fabric of today's society. Already Dead, with its masterful narrative of overlapping and entwined stories, will further fuel the acclaim that surrounds one of today's most fascinating writers.

  • Resuscitation of a Hanged Man (1991)
    Leonard English, a sad and intense young man recovering from a suicide attempt, moves to the Cape Cod resort of Provincetown to work as a disk jockey cum private detective. On his first day there, he encounters a beautiful young woman and falls desperately in love with her -- only to find out she prefers those of her own sex to men. English's first assignment, a search for an elusive artist, proves equally frustrating. As winter lengthens and Leonard's anguish mounts, his desperate quests -- for the artist, for love, for redemption -- take on an increasingly apocalyptic coloring.

  • The Stars at Noon (1986)
    Set in Nicaragua in 1984, The Stars at Noon is a story of passion, fear, and betrayal told in the voice of an American woman whose mission in Central America is as shadowy as her surroundings.Is she a reporter for an American magazine as she sometimes claims, or a contact person for Eyes of Peace? And who is the rough English businessman with whom she becomes involved? As the two foreigners become entangled in increasingly sinister plots, Denis Johnson masterfully dramatizes a powerful vision of spiritual bereavement and corruption.

  • Fiskadoro (1985)
    Hailed by the New York Times as "wildly ambitious" and "the sort of book that a young Herman Melville might have written had he lived today and studied such disparate works as the Bible, 'The Wasteland,' Fahrenheit 451, and Dog Soldiers, screened Star Wars and Apocalypse Now several times, dropped a lot of acid and listened to hours of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones," Fiskadoro is a stunning novel of an all-too-possible tomorrow.Deeply moving and provacative, Fiskadoro brilliantly presents the sweeping and heartbreaking tale of the survivors of a devastating nuclear war and their attempts to breaking tale of the survivors of a devastating nuclear war and their attempts to salvage remnants of the old world and rebuild their culture.

  • Angels: A Novel (1983)
    This novel, which suggests a brilliant mixture of William Blake and James M. Cain, established Denis Johnson as a major talent in American fiction, a promise confirmed in his later books Fiskadoro and The Stars at Noon. Jamie Mays and Bill Houston meet on a Greyhound bus. She is fleeing an unfaithful husband and lugging two travel-stained children. He is on the rebound from stints in jail and the navy and looking for "high old times." Together, they make an aimless tour of bus stations and cheap hotels from Pittsburgh to Phoenix, their momentum fueled by booze, rage, and corrosive need, their journey a trajectory that leads inexorably to a moment of shattering violence.

Short Stories
  • Jesus' Son: Stories (1992)
    Jesus' Son is a visionary chronicle of dreamers, addicts, and lost souls. These stories tell of spiraling grief and trancendence, of rock bottom and redemption, of getting lost an dfound and lost again. The raw beauty and careening energy of Denis Johnson's prose has earned this book a place among the classics of twentieth-century American literature.

Nonfiction
  • Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond (2001)
    Kindle Edition  Paperback
    Part political disquisition, part travel journal, part self-exploration, Seek is a collection of essays and articles in which Denis Johnson essentially takes on the world.And not an obliging, easygoing world either; but rather one in which horror and beauty exist in such proximity that they might well be interchangeable. Where violence and poverty and moral transgression go unchecked, even unnoticed. A world of such wild, rocketing energy that, grasping it, anything at all is possible.

    Whether traveling through war-ravaged Liberia, mingling with the crowds at a Christian Biker rally, exploring his own authority issues through the lens of this nation's militia groups, or attempting to unearth his inner resources while mining for gold in the wilds of Alaska, Johnson writes with a mixture of humility and humorous candor that is everywhere present.

    With the breathtaking and often haunting lyricism for which his work is renowned, Johnson considers in these pieces our need for transcendence. And, as readers of his previous work know, Johnson's path to consecration frequently requires a limning of the darkest abyss. If the path to knowledge lies in experience, Seek is a fascinating record of Johnson's profoundly moving pilgrimage.

Plays
  • Shoppers: Two Plays by Denis Johnson (2002)
    "Perfection is not the basis of what I'm talking about," says a member of the Cassandra family, which forms the center of Denis Johnson's plays, Hellhound on My Trail and Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames. The character could be speaking for his creator, because human imperfection is one of Denis Johnson's specialties -- in his critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and nonfiction, and, now, in two brilliant new plays.

    These two works present a dramatized field guide to some of the more dysfunctional and dysphoric inhabitants of the American West: a sexual-misconduct investigator who misconducts herself sexually; a renegade Jehovah's Witness who supports his splinter Jehovean group by dealing drugs; the Cassandra Brothers and their father and their grandmother, thrown together at a family reunion/wedding/melee at their shabby homestead in Ukiah, California.

    When Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames was performed in San Francisco in 2001, the Chronicle said, There's an enormous appeal in Johnson's bleak-comic vision of a semi-mythic American West. That appeal derives from the author's perfect vision of imperfection, embodied with such energy and courage in these marvelous pieces of theatre.

  • Hellhound on My Trail (2000)

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