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The Name Of The World

Reviewing: Denis Johnson The Name Of The World  |  Rating:
popcultivator By popcultivator on
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Denis Johnson’s THE NAME OF THE WORLD is a wonderfully crafted novel about grief. This book has been sitting on my shelf for years, I’ve always been a bit scared to open it because Johnson’s JESUS’ SON is one of my all time favorites. It’s the sense that once a book has changed you or played a pivotal role in your life you don’t want to taint that feeling by immersing yourself into the authors other work because you fear you won’t get as much out of it. Your expectations are too high, and if it doesn’t live up to them your original opinion of the author will be jaded.

So, that being said, this is no JESUS’ SON. Johnson still plays with narrative structure here, but its not forced here. Instead we are given glimpses of the narrator’s past as he remembers - things and situations aid in his memory as they do in real life. It doesn’t start with the tragedy that changed him, instead it begins with the possibility of relief for his loss. Through a new interest in his life it provides an impetus for his change. Enter Flower Cannon, a young student at the university he teaches. She reminds him of the thrill in pursuing maybe not love but the act of pursuing affection, while also representing the ‘ghost of his daughter.’ We are given so much about his psychology in such a short timespan. It isn’t until he leaves his teaching position is he able to fully pursue a new life - one that isn’t anchored by the death of his wife and daughter. Flower is wild, and it is this impulsiveness that our narrator falls for and through his quasi-obsession with her he becomes less structured by routine and grief. The segments devoted to Flower’s lifestyle make the book such a delightful read - one example not to spoil too much: The narrator stumbles into an art performance called A CANNON PERFORMANCE where he sees Flower shaving her groin for a group of art enthusiasts. Our narrator struggles with the title of the show, one possibility would be the shock factor of seeing something like that is like the blow from a cannon. This is before he even learns her name.

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“To tell you the story of my name, I believe I first have to tell you the story of your face.”