“Nothing sudden is happening here. More is just suddenly being revealed.”
― Denis Johnson from The Laughing Monsters
Denis Johnson writes in a way that seems so matter-of-fact that the beauty is both shocking and expected all at the same time. Every time I’ve read his work, I chastise myself for not reading more of it more often. Here we are, with his final book, and what a book it is.
Five stories: long shorts for the most part, each different, each distinctly Denis Johnson and each deals with death or dying in its own way but never pounds the reader over the head, with loads of wonderful diversions along the way. There are autobiographical elements thrown in (alcoholism, multiple marriages) but they also feature the typical freaky people and situations found in Denis Johnson's work. These are fully formed, grown up stories, and while it's very tempting to think Johnson was writing memoir, that would deny the vast array of settings, moods and personalities found in these five stories.
Johnson was a loud quiet talent. I know...but it's the only way I can try to explain it. There are very few, if any, pyrotechnics here. Nothing fancy, no stories within stories or strange stylizations, instead just 100% storytelling. When reading each one, I was completely immersed, as if I was living along with them, or hearing the tale confidentially huddled over a coffee. They don't feel like short stories. The characters are fully realized. They jump off the page, alive, in your face, or whispering in your ear. Every single one feels like his own man and real, despite their sometimes strange circumstances.
Here's what this review should say, but it would be plagiarism directly from the final story of the book I'm reviewing. I'll let Denis Johnson tell you himself (just insert his name):
"Impossibly Mark's words make music ― the faraway strains of an irresistible jazz. It's plain to any reader within a few lines. Well go read the poems and see. Marcus Ahern traffics with the ineffable. He makes the mind of the speaker present in that here and now where the reader actually reads that place...."
― Denis Johnson from THE LARGESSE OF THE SEA MAIDEN