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Book Review: Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson


This collective work took its title from Lou Reed’s song Heroin, “When I’m rushing on my run, And I feel just like Jesus’ son.” I never liked the rendition, but the lyrics are pretty awesome. Both song and book depicts a person’s struggle with addiction.

All eleven stories are hallucinatory in nature. And although they are not arranged chronologically, there’s an established cohesiveness as much as any drug-addled narrator can finitely recount. They are not tedious, mind you, but they aren’t funny either.

The stories hold a certain sort of sadness that urges for a cure –something less than tangible, but sincere. Behind his manic condition, the narrator manages to be sensitive and listen to people earnestly, make out what they are trying to say.

“And therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person’s life on this earth. I don’t mean that we all end up dead, that’s not the great pity. I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.”

The sixth story, Emergency, speaks of the anonymous narrator while working as clerk in a hospital. He shares the midnight shift with his friend Georgie, an orderly. Both men are drug abusers, furnishing their vice by stealing from the hospital’s cupboard. Yet with unflinching resolve, Georgie was able to pull out a knife sticking from a man’s eye, rendering no complications. A feat even the doctor on duty waived to accomplish.

Georgie is not exactly the hero type; both he and the narrator aren’t seemed interested in popularity or simple acknowledgment. If anything, all they want is an escape from the reality of life through drugs. Who could blame them, when they feel that harmony can only be achieved in an anesthetized world?

“No wonder they call me Fuckhead.”

It isn’t easy to find hope in this narrator’s life. If luck has anything to do with it, he has a very short supply. Or maybe the drugs had limited his sight. However, it’s a wonder to read how hardy a person’s soul can be; of how fate can be redirected with a compassionate nudge from others.

“All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.”

Denis Johnson’s narrative attained a vivid amount of passiveness in conveying the sufferings of addiction. However, scattered in the midst of its rawness, a poetic voice suddenly emerges. A burst of lucidity. It was both sad and beautiful –it was perfect.

“I’d never before come across this cemetery. On the farther side of the field, just beyond the curtains of snow, the sky was torn away and the angels were descending out of a brilliant blue summer, their huge faces streaked with light and full of pity. The sight of them cut through my heart and down the knuckles of my spine, and if there’d been anything in my bowels I would have messed my pants from fear.”


“I didn’t spend a lot of time here—ten, twelve hours a week, something like that… But I felt about the circular hallway of Beverly Home as about the place where, between our lives on this earth, we go back to mingle with other souls waiting to be born.”


Rating:  5/5 stars



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