Small Demon
Dec 152008
 

In this book of stories Johnson specializes in the narcotic grotesque. The basic message of these stories is that people do terrible things to each other, especially when drunk or stoned. People run each other over and shoot each other, but all without meaning any harm, without affect. Or, the affect is one of impotent desperation. All of the pieces in this collection — some of which are very short — are told in the first person and (mostly) by the the same first person narrator, a drunk and an addict and a petty thief. Minor characters and settings reappear from story to story. “Emergency” is the centerpiece here and has been anthologized widely. By itself, this story feels like not much more than an account of two guys who work in a hospital completely fucked up on drugs, first at work then after work. But in the context of the other stories, which flesh out the speaker and central character, “Emergency” takes on a kind of down and out grace. The other “big” story in the collection is the final one, “Beverly Home,” in which the speaker — the same person as in the earlier stories — is a recovering herion addict who works part-time in an “old folks home” producing the bi-monthly newsletter. But this final story is not about to present the reader with an easy path to redemption; the speaker, when not producing his chirpy newsletter, spends his time secretly looking through the windows of an Amish couple and it is during one of these perverse peeping sessions that he discovers the very difficulty requirements of redemption and forgivness. [New York Magazine profile of Johnson here. Another here.]

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