I think I liked this novella. I mean, it’s quite short (a scant…very scant 110 pages) and for the most part it’s whispy and floating and haunting in its narration. But I don’t think I trust a book called ” _____ Dreams” and then people describe as dreamy. It’s a little too on the nose and little too aware of contrivance.
That said, it was narrated by Will Patton on my audiobook, and well, he’s perfect. So I can’t complain. Will Patton has that kind of voice I am so used to narrating audiobooks that it’s impossible for me not to associate the author he reads with a kind of overlapping authorship. He read the Bill Hodges trio by Stephen King which were pretty good, two different Charles Frazier novels, which were great, On the Road, which I hated, and various others. So for me, this is a Will Patton book, and therefore infinitely listenable.
The novel itself was just fine. It’s a kind of type of contemporary American novel. Languorous narration cast against American frontiers of various time periods. A melodramatic retelling of life events so that they take on weight and stand for large chunks of a person’s story but that themselves barely register against the larger landscape of a life lived. So, when you read a novel encompassing a short period of time, it’s easy to understand the why a singular moment, a look, an idea, takes on such clear significance. But when you cast a whole life against 100 pages in a novella, I often feel like, well, why this or what else happened. There this kind of false bracketing off of particular events for reasons that feels constructed.
Denis Johnson is truly a great writer. And he’s written some good books, and one great book. This is not Jesus’ Son at all, but it’s interesting, it’s well-written, and it’s rewarding. It’s also short. It also had this weird place in American literature marketplace of being one of three books nominated for the Pulitizer a few years back where none won. It was pitted against The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s unfinished last novel which, well I don’t trust unfinished novels, and Swamplandia, which I truly thought was just bad. So maybe it should have won.