Book Review: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Title: Train Dreams
Author: Denis Johnson
Published: 2002
Genre: Historical Fiction – Western

Summary: Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth 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, this novella captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

My Rating: 8igbk4dbt

So I’m going to keep this one short and sweet because I just disliked this book to the point of indifference. Train Dreams clocks in at only 116 pages, we meet Robert Grainier who is a rather simple man. He has a cabin in a small patch of woods in Washington State and lives there with wife and baby daughter. This is early 20th century so he works as a laborer chopping wood. While he’s out on a job a massive forest fire breaks out and his family is burned to a crisp.

Thus we embark into his madness as he cannot let go of what happened. He has hallucinations of seeing his wife trying to flee with their daughter only to die by the river bank while the baby crawled out to safety and is raised by wolves and such nonsense.

The disconnect from the human element from so severe in this novel that it felt I was reading an overdone wikipedia page while high. Incredibly pointless glimpse at a pointless life of a pointless man. It can be seen as a study of our own isolation and insignificance but I need to be able to give a damn about the character before I can even begin to enjoy it. I felt Johnson purposelessly kept us at arms length from Robert and because he’s the sole character of the book, the entire story had a general air of detachment. An academic paper on a subject you hate and have no interest in. There is not passion in this story and for that alone it was terrible.

One more Western, send prayers.

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