Monday, December 28, 2009

THE NAME OF THE WORLD by Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson's short and rather forgettable academic novella The Name of the World is, surprisingly, not a bad book. It has its good moments: a wonderfully observed dinner party; a departmental coffee klatsch during which the protagonist learns, via a farewell toast, that his contract will not be renewed; a wonderfully concise and devastating brief description of an academic Marxist (sic) conference ca.1990; and Johnson does provide an unexpected denouement to his variation on the horribly overused 'middle-aged-male-professor-and-young-female-student' scenario. But it's still a decidedly minor performance. Only rarely, in a few isolated passages scattered through the book, does it approach the excellence of the best moments of the touchstone Johnson work, Jesus' Son.

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