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The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is the long awaited new story collection from Denis Johnson It follows the groundbreaking highly acclaimed Jesus’ Son Written in the same luminous prose this collection finds Johnson in new territory contemplating old age mortality the ghosts of the past and the elusive and unexpected ways the mysteries of the universe assert themselves Finished shortly before Johnson’s death in May 2017 this collection is the last word from a writer whose work will live on for many years to come


10 thoughts on “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

  1. says:

    The reason I wanted to read this collection is because of how much I enjoyed Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams After finishing this collection of 5 stories I initially rated it 35 stars feeling that some of the meaning had escaped me But as I’m writing this and thinking about it and the writing I have to give it 4 stars The writing is good and I liked three of the five stories so I’ll comment briefly on those My favorite is the first story titled as the book Bill Whitman an “ad man” gives us a series of vignettes depicting events and people in his life reflecting on marriage divorce death careers I especially enjoyed the discussion with a circle of friends who discuss the loudest sounds they remember or the most silent thing This is not a typical conversation I could imagine being a part of but wow the responses were thought provoking and fascinating A focus on mortality and as Whit puts it “the velocity of life” 5 stars The second story “The Starlight on Idaho “is rather dark as we meet Mark Cassandra “Cass” in rehab for alcoholism and suffering side effects of the medicine Antabuse He writes letters to his childhood girlfriend his AA sponsor his father grandmother Satan his sister “friends and neighbors in the universe “ Rolling Stone and TV guide It is though these letters that we come to know Cass a good bit about his past and how he ended up here35 stars “Triumph Over the Grave” about a writer who talks about aging and illness the death of friends is depressing and realistic It was eerie in a way as I read the last sentences “It doesn’t matter The world keeps turning It’s plain to you that at the time I write this I’m not dead But maybe by the time you read it” Dennis Johnson died in May of 2017 4 stars The other two stories I rate 3 stars I just couldn’t connect with the Elvis obsessed poet This may appeal to readers who really enjoy short fiction and fans of Johnson’s work I own of copy of his Tree of Smoke a National Book Award winner and hope to get to it one of these days soon I received an advanced copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group Random House through NetGalley


  2. says:

    Not only had I never read Denis Johnson before this but I'd never even heard his name before How's that possible to live my life talking books with whoever is willing not to know of this exceptional writer?This collection is comprised of five sizeable short stories written in a style that is conversational meandering unsentimental and poetic These stories touch on the tricky business of living and dying relationships the absurdity randomness and beauty of life our unknowing and unknowable selves addiction among other things The stories are masculine They are edgy They are whimsical and philosophical I won't go into plots What I will say is how they made me feelI felt in few pages like I knew these characters like I was sitting across from them over coffee and they were talking to ME I can see up close a filling age spots on a restless hand a stained shirt cuff a pink cheek at an emotional moment They're telling me everything that is important to them their pivotal life experiences I'm there with them just me and them as their stories unfold What an intimacyAt the end of Triumph Over the Grave it was even than that I felt it wasn't just a character talking to me it was Denis Johnson himself this extraordinary writer who died last year Realising it was him all along I was overcome with the beauty of it all I was sobbing I was undone I know Crazy right? This is not a common occurrence in my reading life let me tell youWhat a powerful parting gift from Denis Johnson While the final story about the Elvis obsessed poet didn't have the same allure for me as the other four stories I cannot give this collection less than five stars I should mention I listened to this on audiobook and it was excellent narrated by a group of fantastic actors Nick Offerman Michael Shannon Dermot Mulroney Will Patton and Liev Schreiber Highly recommended


  3. says:

    I'm between 3 and 35 starsIt doesn't matter The world keeps turning It's plain to you that at the time I write this I'm not dead But maybe by the time you read itDenis Johnson's last short story collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden was published about eight months after he died from lung cancer at the age of 67 That fact certainly adds a feeling of melancholy to the collection even when he isn't writing lines like the ones above It's also a fairly dark book about facing mortality and one's failures I first came upon Johnson's writing in the mid 1990s when I read his collection Jesus' Son way back in the days before I wrote book reviews or counted how many books I read and it has honestly stuck with me all these years later I forget at times what a phantasmagorical ride he often took you on and that his stories had such surprising depth even when they were a little bizarre but his deft hand with imagery and word choice often had me re reading paragraphs than once simply to marvel at what he had writtenIt was certainly inevitable that I'd come to The Largesse of the Sea Maiden with higher expectations than I probably should have had given these stories were the last thing he had written at least as well as we're aware Unfortunately I found the collection somewhat uneven—a few stories didn't uite work for me but they were bookended by one spectacular story and one really good one I liked the story Strangler Bob a uirky story about a man in prison While it too has some dark elements there is humor in this story than most of the others But my two favorites in the collection were Doppelgänger Poltergeist in which a writing instructor looked back on his relationship with his most gifted student who became a famed poet but who also had a strange obsession with Elvis Presley and the exceptional unforgettable title story in which an aging ad man reflects on his life his successes and his failures through the years and some of the interesting people and situations he encounteredIn that story Johnson shares some truly poignant lines which make it evident he knew this was his final book I note that I've lived longer in the past now than I can expect to live in the future I have to remember than I have to look forward to Memory fades not much of the past stays and I wouldn't mind forgetting a lot of itThe literary world has lost a true treasure in Johnson and if offbeat beautifully written fiction appeals to you I'd encourage you to pick up Jesus' Son and Train Dreams his recent novella Those of you who are short story fans might enjoy this collection as well if only for a few of the stories but some may find it difficult to followRIP Mr Johnson and thanks for sharing your immense talent with the worldSee all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoriablogspotcom or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at


  4. says:

    What is the loudest thing you’ve ever heard? What about the uietest? This collection of short stories starts with a party scene where people are wracking their brains for memories I want to be at this party For a second I forget about the book as I race down memory lane wondering what I would come up with if someone asked me these uestions Seriously these are delicious things to ponder Already this writer has me in the palm of his handFunny I was dreading this book First off what’s with the snooty academic title? I confess I didn’t even know what “largesse” meant—all I could hear was “large” which is NOT its synonym it turns out And sea maidens oh no Are these stories going to be about myths or fairy tales two of my most unfavorite things?And then there’s the blah cover I like purple I really do but this cover is plain Jane and the title doesn’t stand out enough It’s in all caps which I hate And there are lines running through the title—in my editor eyes lines through text mean throw the words the hell out Even though I have the Kindle version and don’t have to look at the book I know it has an ugly cover and lol this made me not want to read it “You can’t fool me cover I know what you really look like” I figured anyone who picked out that blah cover must be peddling a blah book Plus after reading a few reviews I worried that this was going to an academic read that it was Fine Literature full of symbolism and imagery and I’d feel all depressed because it bored me or went right over my headI couldn’t have been wrong You start reading and wham You’re pulled right into that party scene with the two killer uestions But that scene as rich as it is is isolated disconnected from the story In fact all five stories have the meander disease But what I got instead of clean clear plots were these brilliant little vignettes embedded everywhere and I just savored them There are some long ass sentences but who cares I couldn’t take my eyes off his prose Each story is narrated by a man who is looking back at his life There’s addiction obsession guilt estrangement worry death The author has a brilliant sense of the absurd which is his ticket to my heart I ran into sentences like this which made me swoon “How often will you witness a woman kissing an amputation?”The author died of liver cancer in 2017 and this was his last work I’m thinking he was beating the clock and maybe he just didn’t have time to go for cohesion Death is a theme throughout the stories though the collection isn’t maudlin It’s clear that sometimes the author is looking at his own life and there are pieces of him in his characters It’s plain to you that at the time I write this I’m not dead But maybe by the time you read it”I decided early on that it was okay if plot wasn’t Johnson’s thing I was mesmerized by his description of complex down and outer characters by his amazing insight into the human condition And he’s one of those authors who observes the little things that we want to pretend we didn’t see or feel Or maybe it’s not that we’re pretending events didn’t happen maybe it’s just that these little things in our consciousness get trumped by the bigger things Johnson brings the little things back to lifeAs always I liked some stories better than others My favorite was “The Starlight on Idaho” about a guy in rehab writing letters to everyone he knows I’m always a sucker for letters anyway and here I was enrapturedThere was a little work reuired as I was reading Whenever I opened the book I had to reread uite a few pages and concentrate pretty hard I think this is because the stories don’t have an obvious plot and without an obvious plot it’s easy to lose your bearings A minor complaint however The language is so rich I didn’t mind the reread I did run into the dreaded “try and” crime now and then and I’d wince but it was a one off event You won’t find a lot of closure but then again stories short on plot don’t necessarily warrant closure The exception is the last story about a guy obsessed with Elvis That one had a tight ending even though the inside did some meandering I wasn’t crazy about the story at first but it grew on meAnd weird—there are no chicks anywhere Don’t ask me why I noticed this Occasionally a wife or a divorce is mentioned but that’s the only inkling that another gender exists in the universe That strikes me as odd until I remember that we’re supposed to write what we know Johnson knows men He knows how to talk about what goes on in a man’s head Thankfully although the book is masculine there is no machoI got all busy checking out the author on the Internet which I usually do when I love a book I found out that he created this exuisite listThree Rules to Write By Write naked That means to write what you would never say Write in blood As if ink is so precious you can’t waste it Write in exile as if you are never going to get home again and you have to call back every detailI’m not sure I “got” all the meaning in these stories—was there to the meandering than I could understand? Dunno But in any case I was seduced by the polished prose and the intriguing offbeat charactersSo where has this writer been all my life? I must read his earlier works What a shame that the fiction world lost this master storytellerThanks to NetGalley for the advance copy


  5. says:

    Another literary icon has passed leaving us with this his offering Five stories each longer than your usual shorts The first the title story concern a man who works in advertising he is nearing retirement and he tells us in short vignettes about his dead or disappeared acuaintances All these stories grapple with death in all its different permutations They oftentimes feature lives that have lost their way their control of their future My favorite was triumph over the grave Where a once successful author finds success doesn't guarantee happiness It is the most poignsnt story and the one that closest relates to the author I had thought I would love the last story with a character that has an obsession with Elvis as I had an older cousin who was Elvis crazy Unfortunately it turned out to be the one I liked the least This is a strong collection in my opinion the stories tell it like it is sometimes brutally Glimpses of lives in all their dark truths He will be missedARC from Netgalley


  6. says:

    ”I note that I’ve lived longer in the past now than I can expect to live in the future I have to remember than I have to look forward to Memory fades not much of the past stays and I wouldn’t mind forgetting a lot of it”What an amazing platform GR is Without it I’d have been none the wiser and would have been oblivious as to the existence of the writings of Denis Johnson And what a shame that would’ve beenThere is something uietly haunting about these stories Each one is told from the perspective of one narrator We’re taken on a journey with them via their raw thoughts We see the world as they do Underlying pathos and angst the characters are all going through emotional situations in their lives We see the frailty of human life both in body and mind The pain of human existence the humdrum of the day to day the demons the obsessions the addictions Somehow these stories capture the very essence of their characters’ lives And it’s not always pretty But that’s life tooThere is beauty In a snowflake falling to the pavement ”Random snowflakes spiralled in the air” I could feel the serenity in the scene I could see if slowly travelling to earth Denis Johnson is a beautifully descriptive writerThere is also bitter and wicked humour scattered throughout The story about the awards ceremony The story about the AA participant writing letters to all and sundry including the devil The story of a young man’s obsession with Elvis and conspiracy theories that continues well into adulthood Life is stranger than fiction? ”Let’s just face the music and the facts Somebody’s going out of my mind”I’m a huge fan of the short story genre and these five stories re iterate why it’s such an amazing genre If done well it’s magic on the page These stories are magic While being hesitant to compare one Author to another I can’t help but be reminded of Raymond Carver’s writing Anyone familiar with Raymond Carver will know what I’m talking about The layers of emotion contained in the stories where as much as is being left unsaid makes as much noise as that which has been For a novella sized novel these stories pack a depth of feeling into them This is the sort of book that will leave me pondering for some time It’s certainly left an impression Loved Thanks to GR friend Cheri for talking about this book otherwise I’d have missed out on something very special


  7. says:

    ” Gravity is working against meAnd gravity wants to bring me down“Oh twice as much ain’t twice as goodAnd can’t sustain like one half could It’s wanting that’s gonna send me to my knees“Just keep me where the light isCome on now keep me where now keep me where the light is” Gravity John Mayer Songwriters John Mayer ”It’s plain to you that at the time I write this I’m not dead But maybe by the time you read it”Not having read anything by Denis Johnson before this and now having finished The Largesse of the Sea Maiden Stories I am moved but also sad that I have missed out on his books all these years before It reminded me a bit of when I heard that Kent Haruf had passed only a year or so after I’d discovered him A gift I’d just been given had suddenly been given a limit The second posthumously published book I’d read this week ”This morning I was assailed by such sadness at the velocity of life—the distance I’ve traveled from my own youth the persistence of the old regrets the new regrets the ability of failure to freshen itself in novel forms—that I almost crashed the car”I’m not typically a fan of short stories but these all seem related if not connected by themes which I love Facing who we are our transient nature the elusive ways of love and life and all of the ‘unknowns’ of life I felt a strong sense of being the silent person sitting by and listening watching these stories being shared seeing the events unfurl weighing in on these people living their rather ordinary if occasionally peculiar lives; their thoughts through which they condemn themselves and others and seek clemency and mercy from the world In other words living Life Day by day by day ”I note that I’ve lived longer in the past now than I can expect to live in the future I have to remember than I have to look forward to Memory fades not much of the past stays and I wouldn’t mind forgetting a lot of it”I am choosing not to talk about the stories individually but about the themes that they collectively share they are simply about life Complex messy sometimes harsh sometimes comical even perhaps a sprinkling of the twisted and bizarre I wasn’t drawn to this book because of the author as I knew nothing about him and the cover title certainly didn’t draw me to it I was tempted by the reviews of my friends Angela and Diane and with Debbie’s review I finally had to add this and reuested it from my library I’m so glad I did Please check out Angela Diane and Debbie’s reviews thanks once again to the Public Library system and the many Librarians that manage organize and keep it running for the loan of this book


  8. says:

    Denis Johnson's Sirenic Stories Visionary Tumulus at SeaOnce in a while I know my lexicon is insufficient to give a book all due accolades That or I'm speechless from its hypnotic effect or I'm worried I don't have time to write a review succinct enough that a potential reader will read it and be persuaded to read the book ASAP Right now it's all of the above so I borrow from others who've experience and who were paid to review this Absolutely Brilliant book Thus below are the best and truest blurbs from reviews I read of The Largesse of the Sea Maiden StoriesSam Sacks WSJ “Johnson’s stories tread a crooked path through illness addiction criminality mania and simple existential confusion His gift is to extract the beauty in all that brokenness like the painters who pulled holy light out of the wounds of martyrs Lincoln Michel BOMB My god that voice Johnson somehow manages to be both conversational and poetic simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious with an astonishing power to turn from one emotion to another in a line or two His transitions between stories sections and paragraphs are worth the study of every aspiring fiction writer This is a terrific book of heart humanity and humor Read and treasure it It is a final gift from a masterMaureen Corrigan NPR Like those direct addresses to his future readers that Whitman scatters throughout Leaves of Grass Johnson in these stories anticipates talking across the abyss that separates the uick from the dead The collection affirms literature's promise to believers the gift of eternal voicePublishers Weekly a masterpiece of deep humanity and astonishing prose an instant classic It's filled with Johnson's unparalleled ability to inject humor profundity and beauty—often all three—into the dark and the mundane alikeKevin Zambrano The Rumpus The characters in this collection seem to see as Wallace Stevens put it 'Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is' Perhaps this point of view comes from proximity to death


  9. says:

    Dear Mr JohnsonI sure wish you hadn't died yet so that you could write a whole bunch short stories to make me swoon over your brilliant themes your every other sentence that are uotable mini masterpieces of intelligence and witMy condolences to you and yours as well as my fellow lovers of fine literature plus those prefer to read crummy stuffBy the way whoever selected the audiobook narrators is a genius Nick Offerman Michael Shannon Dermot Mulroney and Will Patton lift each tale to the sublimeHoping the angels or whoever your pals are now are enjoying fine stories by you


  10. says:

    The reason I wanted to read this collection is because of how much I enjoyed Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams After finishing this collection of 5 stories I initially rated it 35 stars feeling that some of the meaning had escaped me But as I’m writing this and thinking about it and the writing I have to give it 4 stars The writing is good and I liked three of the five stories so I’ll comment briefly on those My favorite is the first story titled as the book Bill Whitman an “ad man” gives us a series of vignettes depicting events and people in his life reflecting on marriage divorce death careers I especially enjoyed the discussion with a circle of friends who discuss the loudest sounds they remember or the most silent thing This is not a typical conversation I could imagine being a part of but wow the responses were thought provoking and fascinating A focus on mortality and as Whit puts it “the velocity of life” 5 stars The second story “The Starlight on Idaho “is rather dark as we meet Mark Cassandra “Cass” in rehab for alcoholism and suffering side effects of the medicine Antabuse He writes letters to his childhood girlfriend his AA sponsor his father grandmother Satan his sister “friends and neighbors in the universe “ Rolling Stone and TV guide It is though these letters that we come to know Cass a good bit about his past and how he ended up here35 stars “Triumph Over the Grave” about a writer who talks about aging and illness the death of friends is depressing and realistic It was eerie in a way as I read the last sentences “It doesn’t matter The world keeps turning It’s plain to you that at the time I write this I’m not dead But maybe by the time you read it” Dennis Johnson died in May of 2017 4 stars The other two stories I rate 3 stars I just couldn’t connect with the Elvis obsessed poet This may appeal to readers who really enjoy short fiction and fans of Johnson’s work I own of copy of his Tree of Smoke a National Book Award winner and hope to get to it one of these days soon I received an advanced copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group Random House through NetGalley