Train Dreams (Johnson)

This novella, not that I’m certain what that word even means, is in Cormac McCarthy / William Faulkner territory, in terms of style and content, though Johnson’s story is one of the American West. Johnson recounts the life of one Robert Granier in ways both funny and heartbreaking. He has a way of rendering scenes in so few words but with a great deal of power – the death of Kootenai Bob, the dog who shoots Peterson, the fire, Eddie’s marriage proposal, the dream about his wife, Gladys.

Having only read Johnson’s Jesus’ Son before this (I’m not counting an ill-fated attempt to listen to Tree of Smoke in the car), I’m amazed at Johnson’s versatility. This is a great American story. All of the elements are present – trains, the West, progress, relationship with the land, anti-immigrant sentiment (see memorable opening scene), religion, etc..

Appropriate for school? Probably. Though I don’t envy having to deal with sophomore boys who want to snigger at a few moments about a cow as well as the probably modern perception of the line, “No beating around the bush.”

A quick and memorable read. The moment when Gladys drops the Bible. . . Absolutely amazing.


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