The Magic of Denis Johnson

J. Robert Lennon at The Nation:

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden takes its title from an opening suite of 10 anecdotes, each narrated by the same advertising executive: a wry, observant man gently dissatisfied with his work and primarily concerned, in these pages, with the inexplicable lives of those around him. In one story, he rather jarringly refers to a group of disabled adults as “cinema zombies, but good zombies, zombies with minds and souls,” and we realize that this is how he sees all people, himself included—stumbling travelers, puzzled by life. He introduces us to a woman challenged to kiss an amputee’s stump, and tells the story of a sexual proposition passed under a men’s-room door; a memorial service produces an unexpected artifact, and a valuable painting is thrown into a fire.

Characters act in “Largesse” with evident conviction, but they don’t understand why; others may or may not be who they say they are. “His breast-tag said ‘Ted,’ ” the adman says of a stranger at a gathering, “but he introduced himself as someone else.” A phone call from a dying ex-wife results in an emotional apology… but which ex-wife was it, the one named Ginny, or the one named Jenny?

more here.