If you’re a hipster, then I probably don’t have to tell you anything about Jesus’ Son, as you’re so cool that you’ve already read it.
Sadly, I hadn’t heard of it until last week, even though it was published in 1992. How old was I then? Twenty-two. All these years without Denis Johnson’s beautiful prose in my head. This seems like a tragedy to me.
I loved this set of inter-connected short stories, narrated by a character known only as “Fuckhead”. The subject matter of crime and drug addiction, reminded me of Hubert Selby Jnr’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. However, where Last Exit… is utterly bleak and soul destroying in its ugliness, Jesus’ Son is strangely uplifting and redemptive.
Unfortunately, I can’t really explain why. Apart from to say that in Fuckhead we have a person who repeats the same mistakes over again, but who hasn’t yet given up on finding a way out. He does some awful things, but he also has a very human capacity for tenderness and a need to be with other people; only this need becomes perverted sometimes. There’s also a very spiritual side to him, where the boundary between drug experience and revelation becomes blurred.
Denis Johnson was a student and also, I believe, a drinking buddy of Raymond Carver. This doesn’t surprise me, as like Carver, Johnson knows what to say and what to imply. This collection is a more poetic version of Dirty Realism and one I will read and re-read in the hope of some of its magic rubbing off on me.