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Already Dead
by Denis Johnson

The New York Times Book Review, David Gates "... once Johnson gets his hooks into you--it takes about two sentences--it's not so easy to maintain your bemusement, and pretty much impossible to stop reading, severely as he can try your patience ... A novel whose ending encrypts its own mixed-but-overall-favorable review--how could you not love it?"

Denis Johnson

     ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (1 of 12), Read 117 times 
     Lynn Evans ( 
     Saturday, June 05, 1999 01:36 PM 

Okay, Pres -- although 'lessn we find us a believer, it might not
be much of a discussion.

For Johnson's humor, just two excerpts -- the first quite short,
from Already Dead, and then a longer one from Jesus' Son.

(BTW, Sherry, I see what you mean about wanting to hold these
people at arm's length and shake the dirt off them. I think I
respond so much to what's underlying the words on the page that
I tend to overlook what it would be like to have these guys in my
 living room.)

Anyway, in Already Dead, the pig-men were forever cracking me up,
especially the one who, for no apparent reason, felt it his job to
school the other. Here's from early in the book:

"That night, after they'd made miserable losers of themselves, been
eluded again and even been confronted by the man, Thompson celebrated
by getting drunk on Seagram's Seven, kicking one of the dogs and
chasing the other two around with a stick, standing by the fire with
his pants around his ankles, pissing in the flames. 'If this was an
electric heater, I'd be dead right now,' he told Falls."

I like that bit of erudition at the end. The exchange that follows
is also pretty funny.

Now, from Jesus' Son, a longer scene, in which the protag. is now
a patient at Seattle General and talking to his roommate Bill. (He's
taken on the role of would-be writer, interviewing Bill for a possible
future poem.)

"Just below one cheekbone, Bill had a small blemish where a bullet
had entered his face, and in the other cheek a slightly larger scar
where the slug had gone on its way...

'I been shot twice.'


'Once by each wife, for a total of three bullets, making four holes,
three ins and one out.' ...

'The first time I didn't say anything, because she shot me in the mouth.'

'So you couldn't talk.'

'I was knocked out cold, is the reason I couldn't talk. And I still
remember the dream I had while I was knocked out that time.'

'What was the dream?'

'How could I tell you about it? It was a dream. It didn't make any
fucking sense, man. But I do remember it.'

'You can't describe it even a little bit?'

'I really don't know what the description would be. I'm sorry.'

'Anything. Anything at all.'

'Well, for one thing, the dream is something that keeps coming
back over and over. I mean, when I'm awake. Every time I remember
my first wife, I remember that she pulled the trigger on me, and then,
 here comes that dream...

'And the dream wasn't--there wasn't anything sad about it. But when I
remember it, I get like, Fuck, man, she really, she shot me. And here's
that dream.'

'Did you ever see that Elvis Presley movie, Follow That Dream?'

'Follow That Dream. Yeah, I did. I was just going to mention that.'"

[Later in the scene, the protag. and Bill are talking about the
Seattle General unit they're on. Bill first:]

"'I just got here. And it stinks.'

'Are you kidding? They're pumping Haldol by the quart. It's a playpen....
I could see living here two weeks out of every month.'

'Well, I'm older than you are. You can take a couple more rides on this
wheel and still get out with all your arms and legs stuck on right.
Not me.'

'Hey. You're doing fine.'

'Talk into here.'

'Talk into your bullet hole?'

'Talk into my bullet hole. Tell me I'm fine.'"

Anyway, that's it. Dark and despairing. Wildly, absurdly funny.
Pitch perfect.

Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (2 of 12), Read 112 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Sunday, June 06, 1999 10:52 AM The pig-men made me chuckle too, Lynn, but always with cautious laughter waiting for something grisley to explode. My copy of Already Dead is still sitting on the table by my computer and I keep picking it up reading paragraphs wherever the book falls open. Johnson's writing is so dense (meaning non-skimmable) that each time I reread, I find things that I didn't catch, or didn't see the significance of, the first time. Frankheimer sets a lot of the scene for Van Ness on page 15 and 16 and I didn't notice it at the time because I was so interested in Frankheimer himself. The following are excerpts: "He and Van Ness should ahve broken off contact years ago. True enough, they were both alone, but in completely different ways, and they didn't deserve each other. Van, you're sort of a demon..." "Van Ness, now--Van had always showed a quality like that: a figure outside the scene, watching even himself. When he entered the frame, he was dangerous. No such thing as speculation for Van; all aimless bullshit had to be actualized." Van Ness was certainly dangerous when he entered the frame of these people's lives. Frankheimer repeats some of this later in the book, but I love the fact that Johnson was setting it up so early. I hate books that throw significant plot-points in later in the book with no basis in the beginning. I know discussion on this book is trickling off, but I wanted to add one more question. I thought of Cormac McCarthy's writing a number of times as I read and have seen Johnson compared to him. I certainly think that McCarthy must be a strong influence on Johnson but he's certainly different as well. McCarthy's writing that seems closest to this is Suttree. Some of Johnson's characters seem more developed than McCarthy's. Also, his writing seems more personal, less removed. What do the rest of you think? Barb
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (3 of 12), Read 110 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Lynn Evans ( Date: Sunday, June 06, 1999 11:32 PM Barb, I think I see what you're saying, except that I had such a hard time with Cormac McCarthy, I never finished the one book of his I started! (which was Suttree) But it's interesting to me to think of Johnson as dense. I agree (more or less), but since I started with different books of his, to me he's not so dense as to be impenetrable. I might miss a lot as I'm reading, but there's always a thread to follow. Whereas with McCarthy, it's very easy to miss the thread entirely. (Or it was for me anyway.) Also, after Johnson's Jesus' Son (which was physically a small book, and the font was such as to suggest a skimming over of what happened, and the words themselves suggested the same thing, a helluva lot of editing), his density is a very different thing from McCarthy's. A sparseness indifferent to interpretation, as opposed to a thicket that defies penetration. I know that sounds kind of impenetrable itself. Or at least pointless. But I'm watching X-Files, which I'm sure explains a lot.[g] Lynn
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (4 of 12), Read 114 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: R Bavetta ( Date: Monday, June 07, 1999 12:08 AM I've read 4 McCarthy books, and Suttree was the hardest going, Lynn. Try the Border Trilogy. I'm mulling about why I find McCarthy more rewarding than Johnson. More difficult to read, that I grant you, but why more rewarding? I'll have to think about it. Ruth Books are cheaper than wallpaper
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (5 of 12), Read 117 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Theresa Simpson ( Date: Monday, June 07, 1999 01:47 AM I didn't finish Sutree either. I'm not sure why - I didn't find it particularly hard going or difficult to follow, the language was often wonderful, there were some hilarious bits (a good quality in any book imo), but I just stopped reading. Theresa
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (6 of 12), Read 93 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Lynn Evans ( Date: Tuesday, June 08, 1999 10:36 PM So, perhaps we must stumble once more against the ineffable mystery of personal taste! For me, in spite of the seeming indifference of Johnson's language to reader interpretation, his words are a straight shot through to all that lies beneath, and I find myself on my hands and knees in the ruined landscapes he describes. McCarthy's language, on the other hand (and again, this is from a very short brush with Suttree), seemed so much the product of one writer's enchantment with his own wordsmithing that I finally lost interest. I know I should try again. I've heard and read so much praise for his books. Lynn
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (7 of 12), Read 90 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Ann Davey ( Date: Wednesday, June 09, 1999 05:45 PM Hey, Lynn, how're you doing? I bought this book and I have copied the entire thread Hopefully on vacation, I'll have a chance to actually read the book. The notes will serve as a wonderful desert. Until then, I am resisting reading them. Ann
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (8 of 12), Read 69 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Saturday, June 12, 1999 06:53 AM I've only read Suttree and Outer Dark by McCarthy. I can actually say that I enjoyed Suttree. Outer Dark was spellbinding and I still remember scenes from it but it was sort of like driving by a car wreck and not being able to tear your eyes away. In addition, I thought that McCarthy's writing was incredibly good in both. I haven't read anything else because I don't want to take on that car wreck quality again, even for the language. Johnson's writing does remind me of McCarthy, but I found it more readable. I think that both of them operate at a remove from their subjects, but the language of both is stunning. I agree that Johnson is more accessible with time spent to really consider each bit. Even with study, McCarthy sometimes baffles me, but I can continue the ride just for what I do get and for the beauty of the language. I've wondered if Johnson has been compared much to McCarthy by the critics and, if so, if it bothers him. My nephew is in the writing program at Brown and, initially, he had to work hard to get rid of the obvious McCarthy influences in his writing. He's developed his own style now, but McCarthy truly permeated his writing at the outset. Barb
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (9 of 12), Read 71 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Robert Armstrong ( Date: Saturday, June 12, 1999 12:38 PM Barb, If your nephew was permeated by Cormac McCarthy's influence, then he chose the best! (Let me put in a plug for CITIES OF THE PLAIN. It is just stunning.) Robt, who lurks at the Cormac McCarthy Forum all the time because I'm a blatant fan
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (10 of 12), Read 65 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Lynn Evans ( Date: Monday, June 14, 1999 10:12 AM Ann, Hi, I'm fine. Harried and frazzled, but otherwise fine. How about you? And what are your vacation plans? I'm hearing from the Kansas contingent that it's hot and muggy back there... Barb, Interesting, your comparison between Johnson and McCarthy. Something tells me I'd agree completely if I could only get through a McCarthy book! Maybe later this summer. Lynn
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (11 of 12), Read 36 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Kent Rasmussen ( Date: Friday, June 18, 1999 03:10 AM Why do all these threads about acquiring books assume that we "buy" them? Why doesn't someone start a thread like one of these: What are the last 5 books you stole? What are the last 5 books you borrowed and haven't yet returned? What are the last 5 books you were given as gifts? What are the last 5 books you inherited? _______________________ Or, perhaps most interesting of all: What was the last book you were given as a gift that you actually read? Grouchy in So. Calif., who never buys books when alternative methods are available
Topic: ALREADY DEAD by Denis Johnson (12 of 12), Read 38 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Sherry Keller ( Date: Friday, June 18, 1999 08:05 AM You can certainly start a topic like that,my friend, but I wonder why you put your question under the ALREADY DEAD thread. Trying to tell us all something? (G) Sherry



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