The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories by Denis Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This posthumous story collection by Denis Johnson is my first time reading him, but it won't be the last. Most of the people who have more experience in the group where we are discussing this prefer collections like Jesus' Son, but I'll have to wait to weigh in on the comparison.
I chose the audio for this collection because of the narrators, so I will discuss both the story and the narrator. Overall, the stories are manly manly stories, but often about lessons learned, lives lived, endings and ghosts. That should be no surprise since the author passed away before these were published. But I do wonder if all his other writing reads as masculine. It's practically Cormac McCarthy in here.
"The Largesse of the Sea Maiden," read by Nick Offerman (text available online via The New Yorker)
Absolutely about an older man looking back at his life, navigating his present without always being 100% sure of his reality. Some painful-funny moments stand out, like not being sure which ex-wife is on the phone, or telling a co-worker's son to tell him hello even after they've had the conversation about his passing. Nick Offerman is always good, and a believable voice for this story.
"The Starlight on Idaho," read by Michael Shannon (text available online via The Harvard Advocate)
This is my second favorite story, from the point of view of someone who has checked into "Starlight Addiction Recovery Center," told entirely through his letters to others. The audiobook narrator really brought this one to life, through the dry-miserable wit of Michael Shannon. It ranges in tone from sane reflection to batshit crazy conversations with Satan. I loved it. And the themes of isolation and regret start to feel thematic as they are present here as well.
"Strangler Bob," read by Dermot Mulroney (text available from The New Yorker)
Set in a jail, a man known as Strangler Bob proves particularly prophetic to a man serving a far shorter sentence. No real comment on the narration except I wasn't thinking about him, so he must have gotten out of the way.
"Triumph Over the Grave," read by Will Patton
This is absolutely the best story of the collection, about an aging writer in the desert, but it veers into the magical or horrific or ghostly, depending on how you read it. The narration feels most strongly like it is the author, and with the way the story ends, I just don't understand how this wasn't the last story in the collection. Will Patton is excellent and I would be shocked if he wasn't somehow funneling the voice of Johnson.
"Doppelgänger, Poltergeist" read by Liev Schreiber
Well, this was a strange one about a man obsessed with Elvis, also about the twin towers somehow. The weakest story, but I did like hearing Liev Schreiber as narrator, and I hope he does something else at some point.
I listened to this after its publication date (mid-January 2018) but through a copy provided by the publisher through the Volumes app.
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