Denis Johnson, in all his work, aimed to locate the hidden, actual face of things. But the new stories build without those miraculous balls of hail, and their truths are necessarily deeper, and more precise, true as you would true a wheel … It feels like the paced vision of a writer who has been made to understand that life is fairly rude and somewhat short, but that the world contains an uneven distribution of grace, and that wisdom lies in recognizing where it—such grace—has presented itself. The stories are about death and immortality, art and its reach, and they ask elemental questions about fiction, not as a literary genre but as a human tendency … These stories ask you to step into the room and listen closely. They are not showy anthems, and in many cases, they have dispensed with hindsight altogether.
He led a certain life and found ways of giving expression to that life, with varying degrees of imaginative embellishment. After a while, that too – the expressing, the inventing – became parts of the life which were, in turn, folded into the mix, so he wrote about being a writer, though this writer both was and was not the author of the book you’re now reading about … The secret of all this is the shifting wattage, the slipshod magnificence and crazy wonder of the Johnsonian sentence. Clause by clause, word by word, anything becomes plausible. Control is achieved through willing proximity to its loss. It seems he’s ‘just filling a notebook with jazz,’ but then these directionless improvisations acquire the weight of stories.
'I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere,' Fuckhead tells us in 'Car Crash,' a line that also describes what we all desired most: not a sequel [to Jesus' Son], exactly, but something with that same breezy, epiphanic quality, something both familiar and new, something unexpectedly expected. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is that book. But it isn’t a sequel, or derivative of any of Johnson’s earlier work. It is its own perfect thing, and Lord preserve me, I think I love it every bit as much as I love Jesus’ Son ... Characters act in Largesse with evident conviction, but they don’t understand why; others may or may not be who they say they are ... Johnson has always seemed to let his stories lead him where they want to go; in some of his less cohesive work, these wanderings can be fascinating but unsatisfying. Here, the extra layer of self-consciousness, far from complicating matters, brings them into sharper focus: Johnson’s seeking is the narrator’s seeking, is Miller’s, is Link’s, is ours.