ELI HOROWITZ, DAVID ULIN, and AIMEE BENDER discuss DENIS JOHNSON'S THE LARGESSE OF THE SEA MAIDEN
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden (Random House)
The second story collection from the late Johnson (Jesus' Son) is a masterpiece of deep humanity and astonishing prose.
The title story chronicles a lifetime of moments, from the small to the ecstatic, of ad agent Bill Whitman, including a chance bathroom encounter, his marriage ("Have I loved my wife? We've gotten along. We've never felt like congratulating ourselves"), and his searching walks around his neighborhood at night ("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"). "The Starlight on Idaho" is structured as a series of letters written by Mark Cassandra, an alcoholic in a recovery center, to all the significant people in his life--siblings, doctors, Satan--as he considers how he can correct his tendency toward self-destruction ("I have been asked over and over by medical people who probably know what they're talking about 'Why aren't you dead?'"). In "Strangler Bob," a young man named Dink ends up in county lockup, where he meets a group of other wayward men, eats a hot rod magazine soaked in an unspecified hallucinogen, and mulls over what would happen if an ominous red button on the wall were to be pressed. "Triumph Over the Grave" is a winding story told by an aging writer about his deceased friends and acquaintances, including a novelist who sees the ghosts of his brother and sister-in-law on his Texas ranch. In "Doppelganger, Poltergeist," a poetry professor's long friendship with one of his students draws him into the student's obsession with an Elvis conspiracy.
This book is an instant classic. It's filled with Johnson's unparalleled ability to inject humor, profundity, and beauty--often all three--into the dark and the mundane alike. These characters have been pushed toward the edge; through their searches for meaning or clawing just to hold onto life, Johnson is able to articulate what it means to be alive, and to have hope.
Joining us will be Aimee Bender, David Ulin and Eli Horowitz.
A few words about Denis Johnson:
“An exquisite writer.” —Mary Gaitskill
“The most essential writer of his generation” —Los Angeles Times
“Great prose, truly great.” — David Foster Wallace
"Visionary, miraculous” —James Wood, New Yorker
“An irreducibly American voice… observation so keen and compressed and so idiosyncratic that in bursts of just a few short sentences it could achieve a visionary quality.”—New Yorker
“Denis Johnson used incandescent language to map a country staggering from Darwinian cruelty & aching losses.”—Michiko Kakutani
“We should rejoice to have his books” —Chuck Palahniuk
“Among my favorite writers ever” —TC Boyle
Denis was huge—a huge and singular talent.” —Joy Williams
"Blistering, brilliant." —Jeffrey Eugenides
“An utterly brilliant and original talent, a novelist who reminds us just how wonderful fiction can be.” ―Philadelphia Inquirer
“One of the best and most compelling novelists in the nation.” ―Elle
“[Dennis Johnson was] a synthesizer of profoundly American voices: we can hear Twain in his biting irony, Whitman in his erotic excess, not a little of Dashiell Hammett too in the hard sentences he throws back at his gouged, wounded world. And behind all these you sense something else: a visionary angel, a Kerouac, or, better yet, a Blake, who has seen his demon and yearned for God and forged a language to contain them both.” ―Newsday
Denis Johnson was the author of nine novels, one novella, two books of short stories, five collections of poetry, two collections of plays, and one book of reportage. Among other honors, his novel Tree of Smoke won the 2007 National Book Award and was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and Train Dreams was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.
Eli Horowitz is the co-creator of Homecoming, an audio series from Gimlet Media; The Silent History, a digital novel; The Clock Without a Face, a treasure-hunt mystery; and Everything You Know Is Pong, an illustrated cultural history of table tennis. He was the managing editor and then publisher of McSweeney’s; his design work has been honored by I.D., Print and the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Previously, he wrote science trivia questions based on popular films of the 1990s and was briefly employed as an apprentice carpenter. He was born in Virginia and now lives in Northern California.
Aimee Bender is the author of five books; the most recent, The Color Master, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2013. Her short fiction has been published in Granta, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and more, as well as heard on This American Life. She lives in Los Angeles, and teaches creative writing at USC.
David Ulin is the author, most recently, of the novel Ear to the Ground. A 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, his other books include Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, a finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, and the Library of America's Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology, which won a California Book Award.