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Jesus’ Son | Denis Johnson, 1992

Jesus’ Son | Denis Johnson, 1992

Jesus’ Son
Denis Johnson, 1992, Harper, 160 pages.

The very first thing that attracts me to the book is the title. As if the writer is God himself so he can give permission to write down his name, claiming he has a son. And since when Jesus has a son? Jesus’ Son is the first complete short stories by Denis Johnson. It gives a hallucinatory feeling of life and freedom of American dreams. He’s able to captive the world of people behind the screen, living urbanites trapped in routine, the social cripple, eternal love, drugs, the ‘others’. You can sense the loneliness, wounds underlie within every single word he writes, yet it still sounds poetic—without being too sentimental. Aren’t we all bystanders?

In almost every story that he writes, Johnson always fancies drugs and love as comforts, like a sanctuary. Life is already too bitter to swallow. One of my favorite story in this book is “Beverly Home”. It tells us about a man who believes that he’s living a so-called normal life, where things are really going the other way around. In the first paragraph, as if he can read our mind, Johnson relates the title with the very well-known Beverly Hills, but it has nothing to do with it at all. It’s an institution for cripples and the left-alones. The main character is an ex-junkie social worker who works in the institution. He always thought he has already led a good sober life, experienced great love life and good steady job, could not see an otherwise grim life that is truthfully closer to his. That he still couldn’t get a hold of nearly anything. Quoting from the story, “I was a whimpering dog inside, nothing more than that. I looked for work because people seemed to believe I should look for work, and when I found a job I believed I was happy about it because these same people—counselors and narcotics anonymous members and such—seemed to think a job was a happy thing.” As the story continues, he becomes interested in a religious couple who lives nearby. He starts to stalk them and it gets worse within days. (He’s very fond of the wife’s mermaid voice that he heard when she was singing in the shower. He believes that the woman is a fragile creature.) But in the end, after things justified, he comes to admit that he had never known, never even imagined, that there might be a place for people like them.

Reading these stories is like having a guilty pleasure: we can relate ourselves with the characters’ feelings that we’ve always refused to show, because we consider them as a sin. Maybe we are all Jesus’ Sons. [Meicy Sitorus]

(The picture was taken from here.)

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