Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

February 6, 2012 | No Comments

Originally published in The Paris Review in 2002, Denis Johnson’s novella, Train Dreams, appeared in a tidy pocket hardback in 2011. Spanning the decades from the late 1880s to the late 1960s, it is the story of Robert Grainier – a day laborer in Idaho and Washington – and it is the story of America, of a landscape transformed by railroad and immigration, of nature’s desecration and resiliency. The novel pivots around a tragic event, after which Grainier’s daily life and his dream life increasingly interweave. Johnson’s effortless prose belies the muscular craft chundering under its smooth surface. For some readers it may seem too simplistic, too unreflective, but it mirrors the character of the man whose life it describes, and, like Frank Norris and Willa Cather before him, Johnson understands that we are all sons and daughters of our own particular landscapes and it is through nature that many experience the metaphysical. Johnson mines a similar vein of American prose-poetry with equally transcendent results. It’s a funny, melancholy book without being sentimental: a rough diamond, heartily recommended.