by Denis Johnson (1985)
The intriguing setting and beautiful language far outstrip the story, which is meager, vague and altogether forgettable. Dreaming, memory and forgetfulness are themes, so it makes sense that the whole book has a vague, impressionistic quality where you’re not completely sure what is going on and nothing much seems to happen. Everyone and everything is just sort of floating along in a post-apocalyptic hellscape populated by impoverished, poisoned, and sometimes mutated survivors.
Johnson’s prose is beautiful, as you would expect from the guy who wrote the ravishing Jesus’ Son. Even in his first full novel he displays the lyricism and rhythm that make his writings a unique and invaluable work of art. In this case I just wish the typically gorgeous prose was in service of a less ephemeral story, one I could better sink my teeth into.
In a nutshell: if you have ever found yourself wondering what it would have been like had Italo Calvino beaten Margaret Atwood to writing Oryx and Crake, you would probably enjoy this book. If not, well. . .