Train dreams by Denis Johnson


Wow – this may only be 116 pages  – but Johnson packs such emotion in to a very short read!

Robert Grainier is a day labourer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century – an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainier struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West – its otherworldly flora and fauna, its rugged loggers and bridge-builders – Train Dreams captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

There are some truly beautiful sentences in this book. Near the end of the story Johnson writes of Grainier …”In his time, he’d traveled west to within a few dozen miles of the Pacific, though he’d never seen the ocean itself, and as far east as the town of Libby, forty miles inside Montana. He’d had one lover — his wife, Gladys — owned one acre of property, two horses, and a wagon. He’d never been drunk. He’d never purchased a firearm or spoken into a telephone. He’d ridden on trains regularly, many times in automobiles, and once on an aircraft. During the last decade of his life he watched television whenever he was in town. He had no idea who his parents might have been, and he left no heirs behind him.”

This is undoubtedly a sad read but I think that’s what I liked about it. Robert Grainer’s  sense of loss, of choosing to live apart from the world, makes it all the more moving and the end… well I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself!


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