Ten stories by the author of "Resuscitation of a Hanged Man". All of these stories, set in the Midwest and West of the United States, are narrated by a young man, a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, whose dependencies have led him to petty crime, cruelty, betrayal and various kinds of loss.
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Johnson (Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, 1991; Fiskadoro, 1985 etc.) brings together eleven down-and-out stories linked by their disagreeable narrator - a lowlife of mythic proportions who abuses drugs, booze, and people with reckless indifference. But this eventually recovering slacker reveals in these deceptively thin tales a psyche so tormented and complex that we allow him his bleak redemption. Gobbling whatever drugs he can, the nameless narrator witnesses a fatal car wreck while hitchhiking and experiences a strange euphoria. His highs can be sharp, edgy, and intense, resulting in casual violence and emotional disconnectedness ("Dundun"); or sluggish, as he threatens to nod out before our eyes. At a local gin mill ("Out on Bail") with his fellow losers, he ponders arbitrary fate among those who fancy themselves "tragic" and "helpless." After shooting heroin with his girlfriend at a Holiday Inn, he finds his "mother" in an angelic barmaid ("Work"). There's plenty of drug-induced surrealism as well: a stranger, feigning muteness, hitches a ride ("Two Men"); a man walks into an emergency room with a knife stuck in his eye ("Emergency"); and a cruising salesman from Ohio pretends to be a Polish immigrant ("The Other Man"). In "Dirty Wedding," the same narrator proves his cowardice and contemptibility while waiting for his girlfriend at an abortion clinic. "Steady Hands at Seattle General" transcribes a loopy, poetic dialogue in a detox ward, where the narrator meets someone more jaded and bruit, cd than himself. In recovery, he works part-time at a Phoenix home for the old and hopeless - some so deformed "they made God look like a senseless maniac." While there, he dates a dwarf, takes his Antabuse, and begins peeping on a Mennonite couple who live by his bus stop. All this to remind us that God shows up in all the wrong places, and angels are everywhere. Blunt and gritty: Johnson's beautifully damned stories sing with divine poetry, all the while bludgeoning us with existential reality. (Kirkus Reviews)