Like Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson has become adept and depicting what it means to be a decision maker in our violence obsessed world. While Cormac excels at showing that we (Americans) have always been mired in destruction Johnson has shown a more subtle approach to the effects of violence on our psyche and our culture.
Do not be fooled: this is a violent book – an homage to the crimes novels of the 50s and 60s. This novel does not approach the over the top brutality of Cormac McCarthy but it demonstrates that once you (in this case the main character: a gambling addicted, barbershop choir singer named Jimmy Luntz) accept violence as an alternative there is no going back.
Even those that escape are not free.
If you read and like this novella continue on and read Tree of Smoke for a far more in-depth look at violence and the chilly fingers that ripple through a system.