Train Dreams A Novella

Denis Johnson

Picador

1250007658

9781250007650

Trade Paperback

128 Pages

CAD21.00

$15.00

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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

An Esquire Best Book of the Year

A New Yorker Favorite Book of the Year

A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of the Year

Denis Johnson's Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this novella captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

REVIEWS

Praise for Train Dreams

"I first read Denis Johnson's Train Dreams in a bright orange 2002 issue of The Paris Review and felt that old thrill of discovery . . . Every once in a while, over the ensuing nine years, I'd page through that Paris Review and try to understand how Johnson had made such a quietly compelling thing. Part of it, of course, is atmosphere. Johnson's evocation of Prohibition Idaho is totally persuasive . . . The novella also accumulates power because Johnson is as skilled as ever at balancing menace against ecstasy, civilization against wilderness. His prose tiptoes a tightrope between peace and calamity, and beneath all of the novella's best moments, Johnson runs twin strains of tenderness and the threat of violence . . . it might be the most powerful thing Johnson has ever written."—Anthony Doerr, The New York Times Book Review

" . . . an eloquent portrait of the early 20th-century American West and an affecting tale of one man's struggle to live with loss . . . [Johnson] proves his skill at drawing the kind of grim Americana you might expect from Cormac McCarthy or Annie Proulx. Indeed, Train Dreams has much in common with Proulx's story "Brokeback Mountain"—the flinty Western setting, the roiling emotions of a quiet working man . . . "—Nora Krug

"A nearly perfect short novel from the most essential writer of his generation."—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

"The visionary, miraculous element in Johnson's deceptively tough realism makes beautiful appearances in this book . . . The natural world of the American West is examined, logged, and frequently transfigured."—James Wood, The New Yorker

"Johnson captures the feeling of the woods and the small towns built around mining, logging and the new railroads. Indians and Chinese laborers also play significant roles . . . The writing is spare and frequently beautiful; Johnson's backwoods dialogue and tall tales are often hilarious; and he graces us with such wonderful words as 'pulchritude' and 'confabulation'—it's a shame we don't hear them much anymore."—Stephen K. Tollefson, San Francisco Chronicle

"His hero, Robert Grainier, a sometimes logger and sometimes hauler, is as dislocated as any wandering druggy from an earlier Johnson book. And in these logging camps and train towns, Johnson has found a territory as strange and unpredictable as any dystopic landscape of his imagination. In a way, Train Dreams puts me in mind of a late Bob Dylan album: with the wildness and psychedelia of youth burned out of him, Johnson's eccentricity is revealed as pure Americana."—Gabriel Brownstein, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"Denis Johnson's Train Dreams is like a long out-of-print B-side, a hard-to-find celebrated work treasured by those in the know that's finally become available to the rest of us . . . Train Dreams is a peculiarly gripping book. It palpably conjures the beauty of an American West then still very much a place of natural wonder and menace, and places one man's lonely life in that landscape, where he's at once comfortably at home and utterly lost."—Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"A triumph of spare writing . . . A gem of a story, set in rough times, in a tough terrain, and tenderly told."—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"A meditative, often magical book . . . Deceptively simple language and arresting details make this a book to read slowly . . . Johnson's portrait of a man who stands still as life marches on is itself something timeless."—Kate Tuttle, Boston.com

"Johnson is one of our finest writers. His characters are usually not the high and mighty but the down-and-out, sometimes marginalized individuals who struggle to communicate their deeper longings or their encounters with the transcendent. A poet, he infuses his narratives with images that sparkle and even jolt but never overwhelm the reader . . . Johnson has the unique ability to draw us into a story and a character until we encounter our own questions about mortality and meaning . . . when we leave this man and this book, we feel the loss, which reverberates in our own souls. We recognize in Grainier's dreams of trains our own fears and longings. Johnson in his poignant prose helps us feel such things."—Gordon Houser, The Wichita Eagle

"Train Dreams is a gorgeous, rich book about the classic American myth, but written for a country that's lost faith in its own mythology . . . Train Dreams, luscious with grief, regret, and lowered expectations, is a lesson in end-of-the-frontier humility for a country anticipating apocalypse."—K. Reed Perry, Electric Literature


"Johnson, ever the literary shape-shifter, looks back to America's expansionist fever dream in a haunting frontier ballad about a loner named Robert Granier . . . Johnson draws on history and tall tales to adroitly infuse one contemplative man's solitary life with the boundless mysteries of nature and the havoc of humankind's breakneck technological insurgency, creating a concentrated, reverberating tale of ravishing solemnity and molten lyricism."—Donna Seaman, Booklist




"Johnson has skillfully packed an epic tale into novella length in this account of the life of Idaho Panhandle railroad laborer Robert Grainer . . . The gothic sensibility of the wilderness and isolated settings and Native American folktales, peppered liberally with natural and human-made violence, add darkness to a work that lingers viscerally with readers . . . Highly recommended."—Library Journal (starred)

"Readers eager for a fat follow-up to Tree of Smoke could be forgiven a modicum of skepticism at this tidy volume . . . but it would be a shame to pass up a chance to encounter the synthesis of Johnson's epic sensibilities rendered in miniature in the clipped tone of Jesus' Son . . . An ode to the vanished West that captures the splendor of the Rockies as much as the small human mysteries that pass through them, this svelte stand-alone has the virtue of being a gem in itself, and, for the uninitiated, a perfect introduction to Johnson."—Publisher's Weekly (starred)

"Take the time to peruse Johnson's corpus, and the inescapable conclusion is that its recurring elements are passions, revisited thoughtfully, not out of complacency or lack of imagination. Train Dreams drives this spike home in two ways. The first is that its time period marked a major departure for Johnson, one presumably demanding a staggering deal of research. The second is that its tone, more subdued than Johnson's usual, had to have presented a challenge. He manages to avoid two of the snares that await writers of historical fiction—on the one hand, anachronism . . . on the other hand, an anxious dependency on archaic words and cherry-picked, jarring period detail. Maybe it helped matters that Johnson is a poet. His language keeps frontier passion in the yoke of plausible old-time discretion . . . [Train Dreams has] a delicacy of language and a mythic simplicity of storytelling that would slip the grasp of many writers."—Stefan Beck, The Barnes and Noble Review

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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Train Dreams

1
In the summer of 1917 Robert Grainier took part in an attempt on the life of a Chinese laborer caught, or anyway accused of, stealing from the company stores of the Spokane International Railway in the...

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  • Train Dreams by Denis Johnson--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Denis Johnson's novella Train Dreams. Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century---an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Denis Johnson

  • Denis Johnson is the author of six novels, three collections of poetry, and one book of reportage. His novel Tree of Smoke was the 2007 winner of the National Book Award.

  • Denis Johnson © Cindy Lee Johnson
    Denis Johnson
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