Overview: I read this book after hearing Tim Feriss mention it in a podcast. He claimed that Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, has read the book hundreds of times. Fight Club is one of the books that help me re-connect with an innate love for reading/learning, so upon hearing this I became intrigued. After reading this book and several of Palahniuk’s novels, there is a strong resemblance in the style of him and Johnson.
The book itself is a compilation of short stories that cross into a dark area told by a strung-out narrator who seems to be transcending his life. The plot of the stories isn’t typical in the sense that there isn’t much structure, but the writing style is pathologically raw and pure to the essence of what the narrator is experiencing. Despite the dark nature of the stories, there is a real draw towards continuing to read, just like what you get when you are reading a book written by Palahniuk.
Lesson: I am going to take a different approach with this one. The lesson for me revolves more around the writing itself than the content within the book.
This is one of those books that I think you should be reading if you are trying to re-tell stories or develop fiction that is based in humor or has a level of darkness to it. The writing style Johnson presents is unique, and I believe that the feeling you get while you are reading it brings out creativity and energy.
I’m sure you have heard that a good thing to do before addressing an audience is to listen to a clip from a comedian’s special. I think this is a book you should read before you start writing any sort of creative piece. Even if you aren’t aware of it, taking in words written by Johnson will probably influence your own.
Important Passages (Per Sean):
I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.
Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn’t know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That’s what gave her such power over us. The doctor took her into a room with a desk at the end of the hall, and from under the closed door a slab of brilliance radiated as if, by some stupendous process, diamonds were being incinerated in there. What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.
He’d wasted his entire life. Such people were very dear to those of us who’d wasted only a few years. With Kid Williams sitting across from you it was nothing to contemplate going on like this for another month or two.
There were many moments in the Vine like that one—where you might think today was yesterday, and yesterday was tomorrow, and so on. Because we all believed we were tragic, and we drank. We had that helpless, destined feeling. We would die with handcuffs on. We would be put a stop to, and it wouldn’t be our fault. So we imagined. And yet we were always being found innocent for ridiculous reasons.
Later in the afternoon, with sad resignation, the county fair bares its breasts. A champion of the drug LSD, a very famous guru of the love generation, is being interviewed amid a TV crew off to the left of the poultry cages. His eyeballs look like he bought them in a joke shop. It doesn’t occur to me, as I pity this extraterrestrial, that in my life I’ve taken as much as he has.
But nothing I could think up, no matter how dramatic or completely horrible, ever made her repent or love me the way she had at first, before she really knew me.
They splashed holy water on my cheek and on the back of my neck, and I didn’t feel a thing. Not for many years.
She wanted to eat my heart and be lost in the desert with what she’d done, she wanted to fall on her knees and give birth from it, she wanted to hurt me as only a child can be hurt by its mother.
The motor traffic was relentless, the sidewalks were crowded, the people were preoccupied and mean, because Happy Hour was also Rush Hour.
“That’s too bad, because asking me if I’m alive makes you look kind of stupid. Obviously, I am.” “Well, maybe I mean alive in a deeper sense. You could be talking, and still not be alive in a deeper sense.”
I looked for work because people seemed to believe I should look for work, and when I found a job I believed I was happy about it because these same people—counselors and Narcotics Anonymous members and such—seemed to think a job was a happy thing.
No more pretending for him! He was completely and openly a mess. Meanwhile the rest of us go on trying to fool each other.
But I felt about the circular hallway of Beverly Home as about the place where, between our lives on this earth, we go back to mingle with other souls waiting to be born.
All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.