Sunday, July 8, 2012

Denis Johnson's Train Dreams: Revisited

Two messages landed in my inbox when I posted my review of Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams  the other day. The first was an email from my dad that can basically be summed up as “Ouch, that’s rough.” He was reacting to this paragraph in particular:

“There was just... not much there. This book felt less like a well-crafted piece of fiction than the kind of cursory memoir that people goad their aging parents into penning for posterity. It was a list of memorable events, sure, but there was no discernible theme stringing them together. It didn’t really say  or mean  anything to me."

Apparently my dad, who is in the throes of penning his own memoir for posterity, read these words as an indictment of his efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth. So let me say, unequivocally, to all the parents out there, keep writing those memoirs. Your kids and grandkids need them. They help us understand who we are and where we come from, and allow us to get to know you in ways we otherwise wouldn’t. I repeat, memoirs are great.

I’ll add here that I read Train Dreams  during a week that will forever be defined by the slow, agonizing passage of my first (and I pray, only) kidney stone. It was, as the French say, not fun. For all I know, I could have read The Great Gatsby  and still come away unfulfilled. Which brings me to the next email I received.

The second message was from a publicist at Macmillan, who invited me to include an audio excerpt from Train Dreams  alongside my review. I thought this was generous, given the negative impression I gave of the novella- the subtle message being that, good review or bad review, the book should stand or fall on its own merits- not the amateur ravings of some internet hack. And with that I agree completely. 

So without further ado, or any more overly personal medical history, here is the excerpt they provided. Be your own judge.

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