Jesus' Son is a visionary chronicle of dreamers, addicts, and lost souls. These stories tell of spiralling grief and transcendence, of rock bottom and redemption, of getting lost and found and lost again. The narrator of these interlinked stories is a young, unnamed man, reeling from his addiction to heroin and alcohol, his mind at once clouded and made brilliantly lucid by these drugs. In the course of his adventures, he meets an assortment of people, who seem as alienated and confused as he; sinners, misfits, the lost, the damned, the desperate and the forgotten. Our of their bleak, seemingly random lives, Denis Johnson creates modern-day parables of a harsh and devastating beauty.
Taking its title from a line in Lou Reed's notorious song ``Heroin,'' this story collection by with-it novelist Johnson focuses on the familiar themes of addiction and recovery. In his novels ( Angels ; Resuscitation of a Hanged Man ) Johnson has shown his ability to transform the commonplace into the extraordinary, but this volume of 11 stories is no better than, and often seems inferior to, the self-destruction/spiritual rehab books currently crowding bookstore shelves. All of the tales, set in the Midwest and West, are told by a single narrator, and while this should provide unity and depth, instead it makes the stories fragmentary and monotonous. Some disturbing moments do recall Johnson at his inventive best, as when a peeping Tom catches sight of a Mennonite man washing his wife's feet after a marital spat in ``Beverly Home,'' or when the narrator 'fesses up to his fright in a confrontation with the boyfriend--``a mean, skinny, intelligent man who I happened to feel inferior to''--of a woman he's fondling in ``Two Men.'' But for the most part the stories are neurasthenic, as though Johnson hopes the shock value of characters fatally overdosing in the presence of lovers and friends will substitute for creativity and hard work from him. Even the dialogue for the most part lacks Johnson's usual energy.