Denis Johnson’s new novella

photograph by Cindy Johnson

Denis Johnson has a new novella, Train Dreams. An excellent review by Anthony Doerr says it might be the most powerful story and writing he’s published. That makes you pause because how can you better perfection in almost everything Johnson’s published, but you know what he means. Here’s a quote from the review that makes a nice point, reminding me of why Jim Harrison’s novellas are so powerful:

“In an 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice Told TalesEdgar Allan Poe said that apart from poetry, the form most advantageous for the exertion of  ‘highest genius’ was the short prose narrative, whose length he defined as taking ‘from a half-hour to one or two hours in its perusal.’ Novels, Poe argued, were objectionable because they required a reader to take breaks.

“’Worldly interests intervening during the pauses of perusal,’ he wrote, ‘modify, annul or counteract, in a greater or less degree, the impressions of the book.’ Because you have to stop reading novels every now and then — to shower, to eat, to check your Twitter feed — their power weakens.

Short stories and novellas on the other hand offer writers a chance to affect readers more deeply because a reader can be held in thrall for the entirety of the experience. They offer writers, in Poe’s phrasing, ‘the immense force derivable from totality.’”

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