Failed fantasists, visionary addicts and washed-up poets haunt the stories of this final collection from the late Denis Johnson, much-loved author of Jesus’ Son.
In Triumph Over The Grave, for example, a writing professor is drawn back to an old writing hero of his, now ageing rapidly and claiming to talk daily with his dead relatives, out on his remote Texan ranch.
In The Starlight On Idaho, a recovering alcoholic reflects on the ruins of his life and his perennial urge to self-destruct in a series of unsent letters to everyone from his mum and the Pope, to Satan. He’s a mess, we realise, but nothing like his mum.
In Doppelganger, Poltergeist (my favourite) a poetry student’s lifelong fixation on a trumped-up Elvis conspiracy involving exhumed corpses and twins switched at birth, is observed tenderly by his melancholic professor, a man who stoutly defends an individual’s rights to his own manias.
In this absorbing collection of deceptively rambling, craftily casual tales, madness and obsession are seen as potential portals to the numinous, and the narrators recount the bedraggled lives of these mystical marginals with a certain wistful envy.
As one says: “I wonder if you’re like me, if you collect and squirrel away in your soul certain odd moments when the Mystery winks at you.”