Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson: “Emergency”

Image 12-3-15 at 8.35 PM

They say Jesus’ Son had such a cult following at one time that it was printed in pocket-sized editions so angelheaded hipsters, and other cool kids, could carry them conspicuously in the back pocket of their artfully faded Levis.  Now, I’m not sure if the following admission makes me more or less cool, but it took me a while to come around to Denis Johnson’s masterful collection of short stories.  It’s been added to my list of things like Napoleon Dynamite and bacon Rice Crispie treats, that at first I didn’t quite understand, but that reveal their genius more with each exposure.

This wasn’t originally on my reading list, as I’d already read it twice, but I found myself craving a re-read toward the end of the term, so I snuck it in (it can be devoured in about 2.5 hours if you’re really hungry for it).

My favorite story in the collection is “Emergency,” partly because of the absurdly hilarious ride it unfolds.  Georgie, a type of idiot savant in the ER, has an unerring compassion toward living things, whether a man with a hunting knife through his eye, or a mother bunny hit by a car (his car).  He reminds me of a pill-popping Lenny, a la Of Mice and Men.

While surfing their stolen hospital med cocktail, the two main characters get themselves lost out on a joy ride.  A terrible snow storm sets in, so they get out of their car—-Survivor Man would so not approve—-and stumble across what they think is a cemetery, but turns out to be a drive-in movie theater.

“We bumped softly down a hill toward an open field that seemed to be a military graveyard, filled with rows and rows of austere, identical markers over soldiers’ graves.  I’d never before come across this cemetery. On the farther side of the field, just beyond the curtains of snow, the sky was torn away and the angels were descending out of a brilliant blue summer, their huge faces streaked with light and full of pity.  The sight of them cut through my heart and down the knuckles of my spine, and if there’d been anything in my bowels I would have messed my pants from fear.

Georgie opened his arms and cried out, ‘It’s the drive-in, man!” 

Image 12-3-15 at 8.30 PM


Correction: Georgie is one part Lenny from Of Mice and Men, one part The Dude from The Big Lebowski.  The combination, I think you’ll agree, is some kind of dark-magic wonderful.


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