Aug 09

Book Review: Train Dreams

Train DreamsTrain Dreams by Denis Johnson

This is actually a novella, which I downloaded as an audiobook. It took only about two hours to listen to, which is a really nice length for a story. I’d head that the ebook revolution would see a proliferation of stories in lengths other than the standard mass market paperback length (ie. novellas and longer short stories) but this is the first I’ve seen on Overdrive.
But about the book: it’s about a logger who lives near the turn of the century in the Idaho panhandle. I say “near” the turn of the century, because it takes place from when he’s around 35 until his death. Mostly it’s about the details of life. First he talks about the details of working lumber, how hard the work is, and how dangerous. The main character is a bit rough, but no more so than he has to be. In the opening scene, he comes across some people trying to kill a man, and he jumps in to help them without asking questions, assuming that since the person they were killing was Chinese, their desire to kill him was reason enough. The Chinese man gets away, and the narrator thinks that he placed a curse on all of them.

It’s a time of superstition and mystery too, not just because of his feeling about the curse. A man gets shot by his dog, and while it’s seen as peculiar, it’s not really questioned. There’s a ghost, too, and a mysterious “wolf girl,” and things that lie on the border between simple wonder and the mysteriously unexplained. It’s like a two-hour snapshot of the time between when the world was wild and mysterious and when it becomes so modern that a man can buy a flight in a plane for $4.

I enjoyed it. It was worth listening to, and the length meant that it never went beyond what it had to say.

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