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heroin

Denis Johnson’s “Work” is a dense, yet disturbingly beautiful story about a drug addict and his friend.  Although Johnson forces us into a nightmarish world, the compelling characters drive us to read on.  He creates a distance between the narrator and reader based on his life-style, while allowing sympathy regardless of his behavior.

I’d been staying at the Holiday Inn with my girlfriend, honestly the most beautiful woman I’d ever known, for three days under a phony name, shooting heroin. We made love in the bed, ate steaks at the restaurant, shot up in the john, puked, cried, accused one another, begged of one another, forgave, promised, and carried one another to heaven.”

Johnson’s first paragraph is quite honestly the best introduction to any story I have read.  He isn’t subtle in revealing the narrator as a drug addict, and although his descriptions are shocking and horrible, it is also beautifully desperate.  The contrast of suffering and heaven is skillfully depicted and honest, despite the hardship in relating to this life.

The boat was pulling behind itself a tremendous triangular kite on a rope. From the kite, up in the air a hundred feet or so, a woman was suspended, belted in somehow, I would have guessed.  She had long red hair. She was delicate and white, and naked except for her beautiful hair. I don’t know what she was thinking as she floated past these ruins.”

Johnson continuously surprises as the narrator falls into some sort of psychosis in his friend’s dream.  It’s uncomfortable and strange but wildly rich with language and imagery.  The story is entirely dark and filled with suffering caused by drugs, and at times almost too distant to grasp the ideas building in this drug addict’s head.

Your husband will beat you with an extension cord and the bus will pull away leaving you standing there in tears, but you were my mother.”

The last sentence of the story is unexpected, yet heart wrenching by the revelation of his childhood. Although Johnson creates a character that is difficult to relate to, he gives explanations for his horrifying actions.  The narrator’s thoughts are detached from reality, but Johnson’s language allows you to be apart of the experience, despite your hesitations.

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