December 11, 2023 | Rome, Italy

The Name of the World

By |2018-03-21T18:27:55+01:00January 13th, 2008|Recent Reviews|

By Denis Johnson

Harper Perennial, 2001. 144 pages.


ichael Reed’s life, like the public school studio inhabited by Flower Cannon, his improbably named crush, is “messy and full of ghosts.” Reed is a 50-something Midwest college professor and former speechwriter whose wife and child died in a car wreck.

Picking up the pieces, he stumbles on Cannon (who changed her name from Micah James). She’s 20 years younger, a female Tiresias figure intended to escort Michael back to psychological (not sexual) intimacy. This would be little more than a midlife crisis book (“Anne and Elsie had to be killed, and the killing of them was up to me.”) in the hands of a less accomplished writer, but Johnson teases and torments Reed, who inhabits grief as a cathartic exercise. Always an exceedingly “male” writer, Johnson is generous with Reed. The name of the world, he suggests, is hope.

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