Friday, May 04, 2012

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson is one of the finalists that did not win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year. None of the finalist did, which is what has stirred a debate. What has not risen, at least in the libraries that I monitor, is an interest in the book. I found it on the shelf in my library and see numerous other copies just sitting in the libraries around the Chicago suburbs. That's too bad, for it is quite a good book.

Some of the Pulitzer board seems to have thought Train Dreams too small to win a big prize. I'd counter that their prize for poetry often goes to very thin books and that the language of narration in Train Dreams is superb - almost like poetry. Of course, the quality of narration is all in the eye of the individual reader. Train Dreams was also first published in The Paris Review in 2002, which may have turned some board members against it.

I like historical fiction and entered the world of the Idaho Panhandle in the early 20th century willingly. Men were still working in lumber camps, hauling trees with horses, and floating them down rivers. If they could not afford a train ticket, losing their money to gamblers or prostitutes, they walked days to get home after the camps break. Winters were severe and forest fires deadly. People were lost and never found. In this land, Robert Grainer faced a great family tragedy. Hardly anyone noticed him as he spent most of his time in the woods.

Whether Train Dreams should have won the Pulitzer Prize is not really worth debating. What I hope is that readers notice and enjoy this excellent novella.

Johnson, Denis. Train Dreams. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. 116p. ISBN 9780374281144.


Anonymous said...

"Train Dreams" should have won the Pulitzer. Johnson's writing is lyrical and powerful. I found myself gasping at certain points. When I finished the book, I reread it immediately. Then I went out and bought my own copy.

ricklibrarian said...

I can understand rereading. I'm sure there are things you noticed the second time through.

Eesti said...

I thoroughly enjoyed Denis Johnson's novella--Train Dreams. The book takes you through a somewhat meandering tale of Robert Grainer who held various jobs in his mor ehtan 80-year old life. The ones most prominently described are his time as a logger in the woods east of Spokane, WA and his job later in life as a transporter of people and packages from place to place via horse and buggy. Grainer's wife and child die at an unfortunately young age and he ends up living life really very much on his own in what sort of feels to the reader although not totally described as such as a dilapidated shack on the same hallowed ground and his former residence. Some really excellent lines written by Johnson and specifically a great up and back between Grainer and a man he was transporting who after being shot was close to death. The book itself won't take you much more than a good sitting to complete and is well worth the time.