Picks and Pans Review: Jesus' Son

updated 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Denis Johnson

Johnson has the distinction of being both a poet and a novelist of gritty realism who uses language like a paring knife to slice through to the bones of his subject matter. He loves to write about drug addicts and alcoholics, people who are slowly bleeding out of life itself. The sense of wounding and of the wounded has never been more prominent than in his new short-story collection, Jesus' Son.

In "Car Crash While Hitchhiking," a drifter narrates a scene of widespread death and injury with a kind of disembodied flippancy that gives the story an aura of hallucinogenic comedy. Describing how, in the hospital, the spouse of one accident victim is privately told by a doctor that her husband has died, Johnson writes, "She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it!"

There is no fat in this brief yet potent gathering of stories. They are as muscular and tight as a washboard stomach, as resonant as a drum. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $19)

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