I just finished reading Denis Johnson's loosely-connective short story collection JESUS' SON. At first, I didn't get it. Like SEINFELD, they appeared to be stories about nothing. But then I heard the words, felt the sentences, and saw the images evoked around the fuzzy edges of that nothing, and it reminded me of prose poetry in the vein of Baudelaire's PARIS SPLEEN or Arthur Rimbaud's A SEASON IN HELL, with bottom-feeder characters straight out of James M. Cain or Jim Thompson. Taking its title from Lou Reed's "Heroin," JESUS' SON chronicles the one-day-at-a-time travails of society's losers - druggies, cons, cripples, the indigent, the elderly, the infirm, the mentally ill (my peeps, in a sense) - as they struggle to find meaning and cling to the hope that somewhere "there might be a place for people like us." Some of Johnson's sentences really stick..
Describing a nursing home woman: "Her feet pointed left, her head looked to the right, and her arms twisted around her like ribbons around a Maypole"...
Observing a tired belly dancer: "She seemed to be thinking about something far away, waiting patiently for somebody to destroy her."
Skies are "as blue and brainless as the love of God" or "a bruised red shot with black, almost exactly the colors of a tattoo" or filled with "Midwestern clouds like great grey brains."
Of a wife who shot at him and missed: "It wasn't my life she was after. It was more. She wanted to eat my heart and be lost in the desert with what she'd done, she wanted to fall to her knees and give birth from it, she wanted to hurt me as only a child can be hurt by its mother."
Or, an existential moment following a fatal car wreck: "I looked down into the great pity of a person's life on this earth. I don't mean that we all end up dead, that's not the great pity. I mean he couldn't tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn't tell him what was real."
I disagree. Denis Johnson's luminous prose tells us what he's dreaming while telling readers what's truly real - the hopes and desires and the faults and failures that we all share, regardless of our station in life. It's too bad he's no longer with us, having passed away from liver cancer on May 24, 2017. Random House published a posthumous short story collection, The Largesse of the Sea, in January 2018. I look forward to reading it!