“And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.”

Jesus' SonWe say we’ll do something, then we never do it.

always say that I’ll read more short stories that’s been published in journals and collections, but I haven’t picked up a full collection since reading The Paris Review‘s “Object Lessons.”

En route to my tap dance class yesterday night, I stopped by Greenlight Bookstore, a Brooklyn indie bookstore on Fulton Street to peruse their bookshelves. I was actually looking for a copy of “Style: Toward Clarity and Grace,” by Joe Williams, which I read for a grammar course (Amazon sucks, by the way, because they never gave me my order!), but the store didn’t have a copy. Naturally, I gravitated toward the fiction section, and thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be nice if I could find a short story collection to read?”

As if on cue, a bright green and yellow book cover caught my attention. The cover belonged to “Jesus’ Son,” a short story collection by Denis Johnson, whom Newsday calls the “synthesizer of profoundly American voices.”

I love being swept away by a story. That means missing your subway stop because you entrench yourself in an imaginary world. That means being mentally gone. That all happened to me when I read the opening story, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.” In the middle of a rain storm, the narrator, who’s high and drunk, gets into a car that later kills a man. I got déjà vu, because I remember reading the last line of the story: “And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.” (Turns out it was in “Object Lessons”).

Just take apart that line and see how much you can get from it. It’s in second-person, so you sense that the tone is aggressive. I imagine a man spitting out the word “ridiculous”–maybe even snarling. You can tell that the narrator (“Fuckhead”) is angry without even having to read the whole story. You might even feel pity for him, too, because you wonder why he’s saying this. What leads him to take drugs in the first place? The narrator’s bitterness urges me to turn the pages. He’s a junkie hitchhiking, and the accident changes him, but it doesn’t seem horrible to him in that moment, because he’s still high. Years later, however, he still remembers this accident.

I love writers who can put pressure behind prose, so that it becomes, as one editor once told me, “a story that sticks with you as reader – one that matters today and will matter a year from now.”

I’m hoping to hone my craft by reading many short stories. While I am at work on a novel, I have a list of short stories that need to be submitted. (That’s right, it needs to happen). I recently finished writing another short story called “Let’s Eat Heart for Dinner.” I hope someday that you’ll get to read my stories, and feel the pressure behind my words.

For now: on to the rest of “Jesus’ Son.”

Question for readers: Who are some of your favorite short fiction writers? Comment below!

3 responses to ““And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.””

  1. Hey Loan, great post!

    I’m so glad you picked up Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son – great collection of stories (I picked up my copy at The Strand).

    I’ve also been trying to zone in on my love of short stories by picking up collections from different writers so it’s nice seeing someone else do so as well.

    Here’s some of my favorite writers and the short story collections that I’ve read so far:

    Junot Diaz: Drown, This Is How You Lose Her
    Karen Russell: St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves, Vampires in the Lemon Grove
    Stephanie Vaughn’s Sweet Talk
    ZZ Packer: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
    Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
    Andrew Dubus: Selected Stories
    Molly Antopol: The UnAmericans – This writer is lesser known but definitely making a name for herself and she was taught by the great Tobias Wolff. Her collection of stories really drew me in because each story is told from a different kind of person’s point of view and the sentences that she came up with just kept making me underline and marvel at her language as well
    & of course, the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald & Roald Dahl also has a story collection that really brings a rather interesting light on everyone’s favorite children’s book author.

    I’ve also heard interesting things about the following which I currently have on my TBR list:

    Phil Klay’s Redeployment
    Rivka Galchen’s American Innovations
    A. M. Homes’ The Safety of Objects
    Manuel Gonzales’ The Miniature Wife
    Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds
    Ben Marcus’ Leaving the Sea
    Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck
    George Saunders’ Tenth of December – I’ve read his short story Adams (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/08/09/adams) and it’s such a weird story but one that you might like, I recommend hearing this one being read to you via The New Yorker Fiction podcast series…it’s another great way of getting the best of short stories…
    Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome To The Monkey House
    and a bunch more that I’ve managed to look up, research and just keep adding to my never ending list

    I’m currently reading Robin Black’s If I loved you, I would tell you this and Marie-Helene Bertino’s Safe As Houses (I actually met this writer at the Greenlight Bookstore for her novel’s launch party) and they’re really turning out to be really good reads.

    Sorry for the long post 😀 just excited to talk about short stories as much as the next guy haha



    1. Pedro!

      Looks like I have a new reading list to get through 🙂

      We should meet and catch up! I see you’re going to the Brooklyn Book Festival later this month. Would you want to meet up?


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey Loan!

        Glad I could contribute to your list. I have a bunch of them if you’d like to borrow any.

        As for meeting up, that would be awesome, we should definitely meet up! We could even meet before hand as well.

        I went last year so I’m really excited. There were sooo many (free) events with authors and lit mags and literary people I just loved it. And there are a ton of books as well 🙂



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