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Review: "The Name of the World" by Denis Johnson


Note: This is the second book in my personal colloquium regarding Denis Johnson. Johnson delivers in ways that are very difficult to adequately or accurately describe. Since I have decided to read several books by this author I will focus on this story itself I will focus on the story itself rather than his clear, seemingly simplistic, yet sometimes transcendent paragraphs or themes. I addressed that to some degree in my first review for the "Largesse of the Sea Maiden" and will comment on him in general when I have finished all the books I've decided to read. In this story, the main character, Michael Reed, is a university professor holding on to the vestiges of a life and his emotions four years after the death of his wife and young daughter in an ironic car accident. To a degree he blames himself for allowing them to ride with a senior citizen who was somewhat less than competent. Reed is intelligent, observant, overwhelmed. He is a passenger on a life he attempts to cope with but cannot fully grasp at some elemental level. The world is simply too much, too crazy, too arbitrary. A careful reading allows us to consider Reed's plight, and more importantly, our own; not as tragic as his, but just as arbitrary. How do we deal with a life, a world, a universe that, at one and the same time presents as completely sensible and utterly senseless. One moves on, Reed seems to say, placing one foot in front of the other, being human, connecting with others and finding meaning wherever and however it comes to you or you carve it out. And it the meaning cannot be found, you can still survive.