Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 116 pages; $13.00 (paperback). Reading level: adult.
In a scant 116 pages, Johnson chronicles the life and death of both Robert Grainier and the American northwest from the 1880s through the 1960s. Grainier builds bridges, fells trees, transports goods, loses his wife of four years to a fire, and by carrying her memory tenderly with him throughout his long life, overcomes his grief. Meanwhile the bridges he builds and the forests he cuts transform and tame the northwestern United States until both Robert and the wilderness world in which he lived quietly disappear. In lyrical prose and without a hint of pretension, Johnson catches the humor, the excitement, and the sadness of a life and an era playing out: “Almost everyone in those parts knew Robert Grainier, but when he passed away in his sleep sometime in November of 1968, he lay dead in his cabin through the rest of the fall, and through the winter, and was never missed…” As for the untamed northwest, its passing preceded Grainier’s and was marked in 1935 with the howl of a wolf-boy performing in a theater, creating a sound that “rose in the auditorium like a wind coming from all four directions…more and more awful and beautiful…And suddenly it all went black. And that time was gone forever.” Johnson has captured something elusive and beautiful in these pages.
Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author
Biography | View
- Just Fine They Way They Are (Calkins Creek, March 1, 2011)
- The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton (Clarion Books, 2010)
- Thank You Very Much, Captain Ericsson! (Holiday House, 2005; Berndtsdotter Books, 2012)
- When Esther Morris Headed West (Holiday House, 2001)
- The Legend of Strap Buckner (Holiday House, 2001)
- Wicked Jack (Holiday House, 1995)
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