Lit: Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson seems like a really intense guy. His novels — from Angels (1983) to Tree of Smoke (2007) — center on lives ravaged by desolation, sadness, madness and more; restless lives that inhabit such places as run-down houses, bus stops, jail cells a

Share on Nextdoor

Denis Johnson seems like a really intense guy. His novels — from Angels (1983) to Tree of Smoke (2007) — center on lives ravaged by desolation, sadness, madness and more; restless lives that inhabit such places as run-down houses, bus stops, jail cells and mental institutions. My personal favorite, Jesus’ Son (1992), drew heavily from Johnson’s own struggles with substance abuse, resulting in a collection of short stories that are so vivid and stark and touching and funny that one is transformed forever for experiencing them. His sentences possess so much more than their literal construction. Johnson once explained his approach thusly: “What I write about is really the dilemma of living in a fallen world, and asking, ‘Why is it like this if there’s supposed to be a God?’ ”

Born in Munich, mentored by Raymond Carver and forever elusive, Johnson is truly a unique figure in American literature, which makes his stop in Cincinnati such a rare occurrence. His e-mailed response to my asking for an interview: “No — I’m in the middle of what I hope is a long vacation from interviews. But you could come to the thing at the Mercantile — they’ll have me cornered, and if they’ve planned a Q&A, I’ll just have to enjoy it, and you’d have some material for a piece.”

Johnson precedes his 7 p.m. April 22 appearance at the Mercantile Library (414 Walnut St., Downtown) with a stop at the University of Cincinnati (ERC building room 427) 7 p.m. Tuesday.


Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.