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Publisher's Summary

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions.
Robert Grainer is a day laborer in the American West at the start of the 20th century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted 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—its otherworldly flora and fauna, its rugged loggers and bridge builders—the new novella by the National Book Award-winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.
©2002 Denis Johnson (P)2011 Macmillan Audio
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Critic Reviews

“[A] severely lovely tale . . . The visionary, miraculous element in Johnson’s deceptively tough realism makes beautiful appearances in this book…The hard, declarative sentences keep their powder dry for pages at a time, and then suddenly flare into lyricism; the natural world of the American West is examined, logged, and frequently transfigured.” (James Wood, The New Yorker)
“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.” (Publisher’s Weekly)
“National Book Award-winner Johnson, ever the literary shape-shifter, looks back to America’s expansionist fever dream in a haunting frontier ballad about a loner named Robert Granier . . . Johnson draws on history and tall tales to adroitly infuse one contemplative man’s solitary life with the boundless mysteries of nature and the havoc of humankind’s breakneck technological insurgency, creating a concentrated, reverberating tale of ravishing solemnity and molten lyricism.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Geoff on 02-15-12

A compact epic

Lyricism that's reminiscent of James Lee Burke and Faulkner, and is therefore right in narrator Will Patton's wheelhouse. A novella of the opening and closing of the American West that can be enjoyed without "worldly interests intervening...[to] modify, annul or counteract...the impressions of the book," to quote Anthony Doerr (quoting Poe) in the New York Times.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful


By Louis on 06-20-12

2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist

The novella begins and ends with cries to others, in between Robert Granier is usually alone in the Pacific Northwest.

Why four and not five? A few word choices took me out of Robert Grainer's introspection, during shifts between descriptions of the valley and Granier’s thoughts, and the narrative leaps were jarring at times.

Will Patton does an excellent job. His voice is weary, optimistic, intelligent, detached. But this is a laconic open man, and while the characterizations are distinctive, Patton’s voice is better suited for Saigon (“Tree of Smoke”), New Orleans (James Lee Burke) or Manhattan (“Cosmopolis”).

(Train Dreams was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. For the first time since the 1970s, there was no award for Fiction.)

A complaint: the cover is a desaturated Thomas Hart Benton-like scene, a race between horse and Iron Horse across the dull lumpy prairie. It is misleading. The train dreams are not those of man against machine; this is not John Henry. I interpreted the title as a command: train your dreams.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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