Jesus’ Son

by Denis Johnson

Here’s another one I’ve been putting off for a while. I shouldn’t have. I mean, it came highly recommended by someone whose opinion I trust, but it’s a short story collection, and for reasons I recently touched on, I’ve been a bit reluctant to do short stories lately. That said, it’s nice to know that there are still short story collections like Jesus’ Son around, that happen to be stellar throughout.

I had an experience reading Jesus’ Son that I haven’t really encountered since John Pringle’s The Truth Ratio. I was enjoying myself to begin with––nothing that blew me away, but nothing horrendous either––when I suddenly hit the story “Work” and the collection just took off. Johnson has a knack for capturing those on the fringes of society in a way that feels not only compelling, but real. He showcases a great skill of shifting between hard grit and some pretty funny moments, bringing things back to humanity again and again. And the writing’s fantastic. Johnson leads us through a dirty, broken world with a subtle hand that knows how to push readers forward and just as effectively stop us dead in our tracks.

Otherwise, it’s a bit hard to talk about a collection like Jesus’ Son, one so tightly written, but also so brief. But this is my favourite type of book when I have a lot of reading in my stack, as I usually do: one that doesn’t take a major time investment, one that I’m happy to spend even a short period with.