Search >>
Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Pulitzer Prize for Biography
Pulitzer Prize for History
Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction
National Book Critics Circle Award
National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
National Book Award
National Book Award for Fiction
National Book Award for Nonfiction
Man Booker Prize
Man Booker Prize
New York Times Best Books
New York Times Best Fiction Books of the Year
New York Times Best Nonfiction Books of the Year
LA Times Book Prize
LA Times Book Prize for Fiction
TIME Magazine Best Books
TIME Magazine Best Fiction Books of the Year
TIME Magazine Best Nonfiction Books of the Year
Amazon.com Best Books
Amazon.com Best Books of the Year
ALA Notable Books
ALA Notable Books - Fiction
ALA Notable Books - Nonfiction
PEN/Faulkner Award
Pen/Faulkner Award
100 Best Novels
The Novel 100: The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time
Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the Century
FAW Best Books of the Year
Best Books of the Decade
Best Books of 2016
Best Books of 2015
Best Books of 2014
Best Books of 2013
Best Books of 2012
Best Books of 2011
Best Books of 2010
Best Books of 2009
Best Books of 2008
Best Books of 2007
Best Books of 2006
Best Books of 2005
Best Books of 2004
Best Books of 2003
Best Books of 2002
Best Books of 2001
Best Books of 2000
Best Books of 1999
Best Books of 1998
Best Books of 1997
Author Honors
New Yorker 20 Under 40 (2010)
New Yorker Twenty Best Young Fiction Writers in America (1999)
Granta Best of Young American Novelists (2007)
Granta Best of Young American Novelists (1996)
Granta Best of Young British Novelists (2003)
MacArthur Fellows in Fiction
National Book Foundation 5 Under 35

The Name of The World
DENIS JOHNSON

The Name of The World by Denis Johnson
36 reviews (2000) (144p)
PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

Visit this book's Amazon.com page >>


Book Description

The acclaimed author of Jesus' Son and Already Dead returns with a beautiful, haunting, and darkly comic novel. The Name of the World is a mesmerizing portrait of a professor at a Midwestern university who has been patient in his grief after an accident takes the lives of his wife and child and has permitted that grief to enlarge him.

Michael Reed is living a posthumous life. In spite of outward appearances -- he holds a respectable university teaching position; he is an articulate and attractive addition to local social life -- he's a dead man walking.

Nothing can touch Reed, nothing can move him, although he observes with a mordant clarity the lives whirling vigorously around him. Of his recent bereavement, nearly four years earlier, he observes, "I'm speaking as I'd speak of a change in the earth's climate, or the recent war."

Facing the unwelcome end of his temporary stint at the university, Reed finds himself forced "to act like somebody who cares what happens to him. " Tentatively he begins to let himself make contact with a host of characters in this small academic town, souls who seem to have in common a tentativeness of their own. In this atmosphere characterized, as he says, "by cynicism, occasional brilliance, and small, polite terror," he manages, against all his expectations, to find people to light his way through his private labyrinth.

Elegant and incisively observed, The Name of the World is Johnson at his best: poignant yet unsentimental, replete with the visionary imaginative detail for which his work is known. Here is a tour de force by one of the most astonishing writers at work today.


Amazon.com Review
The Name of the World finds Denis Johnson the visionary poet and Denis Johnson the sober novelist engaged in a puzzling tug of war. What begins as a muted evocation of grief takes increasingly strange turns, until the novel's second half spins away from the narrative logic of the first. The result is, well, mixed, a beautiful mess glued together mostly by the power of Johnson's transcendent prose. The protagonist this time around is not a junkie or a drug dealer or even a writer, but a college professor whose wife and child died four years earlier in an automobile accident. Michael Reed walks, he talks, he teaches, but inside his thoughts rip "perpetually around a track like dogs after a mechanized rabbit." Not much has happened since their death, and numbed by the habit of grief, he thinks that's just fine. "Nothing was required of me," Reed thinks. "I just had to put one foot in front of the other, and one day I'd wander wide enough of my dark cold sun to break gently from my orbit."

That occasion comes when Reed reaches the premature end of his university appointment--and meets a redheaded cellist, the sort of wild, witchy, and becomingly deranged coed often found in books but perhaps less often in life. Flower Cannon (not, as one may imagine, the name she was born with) also shaves her pubic hair as public performance art and offers stripteases for fun and profit on the side. As the novel grows less coherent, Reed blunders into her childhood dream, or memory, which echoes his own dream and is also somehow haunted by the ghost of his daughter, or maybe Flower herself is the ghost of his daughter, or, well, something to that effect. (Dialogue such as "You. Are you a siren? A witch?" does little to clarify the situation.) But in the end it doesn't matter, because the dilemma this student presents Reed is as old as all time, and as easy to describe: "To let my wife and child be dead. I didn't think I was cruel enough for that. Because that is what the imperfections in Flower's skin invited me to do. There was a sense in which Anne and Elsie had to be killed, and killing them was up to me."

Actually, this sort of straightforward psychological exposition isn't really Johnson's bag. Like his antihero, he's after "the unforeseen"--that which can't be explained in words but only suggested through imagery, the more shocking the better. "In my current frame of mind I'd hoped for warnings much stranger and not so obvious," Reed thinks after reading a religious tract. In a similar vein, Johnson instructs us how to read his book: "I think this narrative might cohere, if I ask you to fix it with this vision: luminous images, summoned and dismissed in a flowering vagueness." Vagueness does indeed flower here, but it does so amid flashes of genuine brilliance, the kind of writing that gave the classic Jesus' Son its particular brand of unhinged lyricism.

Reed, for instance, is surrounded by characters in memorably Johnsonian states of desperation. History professor Tiberius Soames, fresh on the heels of a nervous breakdown: "Michael, we must get out of this flatness. The flatness and the regimented plant life. The vastly regimented plant life"; the caterer, a Peter Lorre look-alike who calls herself the Froggy Bitch and has the "smashed sinuses of an English bulldog"; the head trauma patient who wanders the grounds of a former lunatic asylum, holding aloft a small, imaginary object like an invisible torch: "I don't know. I can't see it. It's very light." No one but Johnson could bestow such radiant strangeness upon the inhabitants of a Midwestern college town. And if Reed's final, defiantly unreflective stance isn't much of a revelation, well, one hates to request a man with a knife sticking out of his eye in every Denis Johnson book. As brief and vivid as a hallucination, The Name of the World is the work of a prose musician who wisely refuses to play the same note twice. --Mary Park


Other Award Winning Books by Denis Johnson
The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson
109 reviews (2014) (240p) (Amazon Top100) (NYT100) (Amazon Top10Lit) (Time Top10) (TIME) (Amazon)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
152 reviews (2011) (128p) (PW Fiction) (NYT100) (Econ) (New Yorker) (NPR) (PP)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
Tree of Smoke: A Novel by Denis Johnson
201 reviews (2007) (624p) (PP) (NBA) (NYTimes) (TIME) (Amazon)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
JESUS' SON: Stories by Denis Johnson
104 reviews (1993) (176p) (NYTimes)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page

Denis Johnson Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 4  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 3  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 2 Tree of Smoke: A Novel · Train Dreams ·  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 1 Tree of Smoke: A Novel ·  
National Book Award Nominations 1 Tree of Smoke: A Novel ·  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 1 The Name of The World ·  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

BACK

Pulitzer Prize | National Book Critics Circle Award | National Book Award | PEN/Faulkner Award | Man Booker Prize | Contact