Book Review: Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson; A small American tragedy

Book Review by Jack A. Urquhart 

Denis Johnson’s novella, Train Dreams, is one of those elegantly understated, deceptively simple works of fiction that sneaks up on you while you thought nothing much was happening on the page. The author’s protagonist is Robert Granier, an ordinary day laborer and woodsman/quasi hermit living in the forests of the Pacific Northwest at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Shattered by the loss of his family, Granier struggles to make sense of a rapidly changing world and in the process, becomes a small American tragedy unto himself.

Johnson’s novella—it’s only a little over a 120 pages—is steeped in the mysteries and magic of nature.  For my money, the final two sentences are worth the purchase price all by themselves.

Reading Train Dreams drove home (for me) the travesty of the Pulitzer Board’s decision to forgo an award for fiction in 2012.  If Johnson’s novella–one of this year’s fiction finalists–isn’t award-worthy, then I’d like to know whose is.

A marvelous read.

About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in Washington State.
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2 Responses to Book Review: Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson; A small American tragedy

  1. Interesting sounding book. I like your review! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Train Dreams | Shine A Little Light

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