Robert Grainer is a day labourer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century - an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Shipped by train in 1893 into the woods of the Idaho panhandle, he grows up, works on logging gangs, falls in love, and loses his wife and baby daughter to a particularly pernicious wildfire. Derailed by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime.
Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, Train Dreams captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.
Readers eager for a fat follow-up to Tree of Smoke could be forgiven a modicum of skepticism at this tidy volume a reissue of a 2003 O. Henry Prize winning novella that originally appeared in the Paris Review but it would be a shame to pass up a chance to encounter the synthesis of Johnson's epic sensibilities rendered in miniature in the clipped tone of Jesus' Son. The story is a snapshot of early 20th-century America as railroad laborer Robert Granier toils along the rails that will connect the states and transform his itinerant way of life. Drinking in tent towns and spending summers in the wilds of Idaho, Granier misses the fire back home that leaves no trace of his wife and child. The years bring diminishing opportunities, strange encounters, and stranger dreams, but it's not until after participating in the miracle of flight and a life-changing encounter with a mythical monster that Granier realizes what he's been looking for. An ode to the vanished West that captures the splendor of the Rockies as much as the small human mysteries that pass through them, this svelte stand-alone has the virtue of being a gem in itself, and, for the uninitiated, a perfect introduction to Johnson.