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The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

By: Denis Johnson

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Imprint: Random House

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780812988635

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On Sale: | Pages: 224

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Twenty-five years after Jesus’ Son, a haunting new collection of short stories on aging, mortality, and transcendence, from National Book Award winner and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Denis Johnson   The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is the long-awaited new story collection from Denis Johnson. It follows the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed Jesus’ Son. Written in the same luminous prose, this collection finds Johnson in new territory, contemplating old age, mortality, the ghosts of the past, and the elusive and unexpected ways the mysteries of the universe assert themselves. Finished shortly before Johnson’s death in May 2017, this collection is the last word from a writer whose work will live on for many years to come.  Advance praise for The Largesse of the Sea Maiden“American literature suffered a serious loss with [Denis] Johnson’s death. These final stories underscore what we’ll miss. . . . Johnson is best known for his writing about hard-luck cases—alcoholics, thieves, world-weary soldiers. But this final collection ranges up and down the class ladder; for Johnson, a sense of mortality and a struggle to make sense of our lives knew no demographic boundaries.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)“An instant classic . . . A masterpiece of deep humanity and astonishing prose . . . It’s filled with Johnson's unparalleled ability to inject humor, profundity, and beauty—often all three—into the dark and the mundane alike. These characters have been pushed toward the edge; through their searches for meaning or clawing just to hold onto life, Johnson is able to articulate what it means to be alive, and to have hope.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review) Praise for Denis Johnson   “Denis Johnson was the best American writer of the past twenty-five years.”—New Republic   “He was the kind of writer who comes along once in a generation, if that often: a true original, in the same league as Melville and Whitman.”—n+1   “A true American artist . . . a revelator for this still new century.”—The New York Times   “The God I want to believe in has a voice and a sense of humor like Denis Johnson’s.”—Jonathan Franzen   “Nobody wrote with more brutality and mercy, more hilarity and grace. What a genius he was.”—Elizabeth McCracken   “Our most poetic American short-story writer since Hemingway.”—George Saunders   “Prose of amazing power and stylishness.”—Philip Roth   “When Denis Johnson is justly praised for his voice, I always think, just the one? He has an eerie symphony at his command.”—Karen Russell   “His prose tiptoes a tightrope between peace and calamity.”—Anthony Doerr “His lonely spaces and stunned lives have a hair-trigger fascination that is American to the core.”—Don DeLillo “Denis Johnson was and is, without question, significant and great.”—Michael Cunningham
My favorite of the five stories — two of which are novella-length, if you want to split hairs — is the title story. Its narrator is a copywriter who strings together a series of brief-but-vivid vignettes from his unhappy life (a sketch of a dinner party at which everyone tries to name their favorite moment of silence, for instance). Taken together, these vignettes reveal him so fully that when we get to the end, and he mentions that an ex-wife has just called him to say she's dying, it seems perfectly in keeping with his character that he can't figure out which of his ex-wives it was. The author of these five remarkable tales may be dead, but his work will remain with us for a very long time.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"The Largesse of the Sea Maiden," Johnson's new and presumably final collection � he died from liver cancer in May � is no outlier. Without exception the five stories that make up this volume, averaging about 40 pages each, feature intimations of mortality.... What makes "The Largesse of the Sea Maiden" different is that in this case Johnson knew his own time was short, and embarked on his material with an admirable and pitiless openness he conveys through his characters... Denis Johnson tries to comfort us about his impending absence, and to use his stunning gift for revelation � truly his singular skill � to brighten the interiors of tragedy and help us wave off the vultures hovering above.
—New York Times
THE LARGESSE OF THE SEA MAIDEN is, in all the best ways, longer and deeper than its 200-plus pages might otherwise indicate.... THE LARGESSE OF THE SEA MAIDEN is a collection to be read over and over again. Johnson's prose and delivery are spare, telling little but revealing much. Is there a favorite story here? Yes. In the words of the punchline of the old vaudeville joke, “All of 'em.” It's a terrific work with which to end a life and career --- or, indeed, to begin one such.
Johnson's optimal fighting weight has always been near the 200-page mark, and for the many votaries of “Jesus' Son” — the most iconic story collection of the American 1990s — “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” will be much more than a lovely gift; it will be a benediction. Herein are those unmistakable Johnsonian questers and wastrels, narcotized poets and cons, ragged pilgrims ill fit for society, all of them conveyed in prose tingling from the concussion of the sacred and profane, with a sensibility beautifully receptive to bursts of black humor.
—Washington Post
Countering the trend of posthumous books that never should have been published, Denis Johnson's story collection “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” was clearly meant to be his final word to readers. (Johnson died of liver cancer last May; he was 67.) It's the equal of and direct successor to his finest work, which most would agree are the stories in “Jesus' Son” (1992), although it was his novel “Tree of Smoke” (2007) that won the National Book Award.... With “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden,” Johnson found the perfect note to go out on — an instant classic.
The stories in “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” are not as cohesive or as plangent as those in “Jesus' Son.” This is a lesser book, but only in the sense that the best later Sinatra records were lesser than “In the Wee Small Hours,” or that Neil Young could not in later decades recapture the mood of “After the Gold Rush” or “Tonight's the Night.” These stories drift, but Johnson finesses his way through them, his prose vernacular and elevated at the same time.
—New York Times
[E]ven when his stories are problematic, Johnson's sentences carry great weight and beauty. The poet's ear is still there, sharp and poignant as ever.... Johnson assembled this collection over years, finishing it with the knowledge of his own death. In his final collection, Denis Johnson gives us beautiful, imperfect and wonderfully damaged men.
—Los Angeles Times
Here's what Bill Whitman, a 62-year-old advertising agent, says about his wife in the title story of Denis Johnson's collection “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden”: “She's petite, lithe, quite smart; short gray hair, no makeup. A good companion. At any moment — the very next second — she could be dead.” The swerve in that description hints at the powerful instability of Johnson's writing.
—Wall Street Journal
...a book that's not among [Johnson's] best. Two of five the stories — "The Starlight on Idaho" and "Strangler Bob" — are dreary, predictable tales of losers on "the edges of America," druggy thieves and killers whose stories we've heard before.... Johnson's final work is tightly confined. Women are barely mentioned. His characters are middle-aged white men, and their lives seldom rise above the mundane.... Within this limited world, Johnson's carefully styled language conveys despair, pain, hopelessness, irreparable loss and glimpses of resurrection.
—Dallas Morning News
Johnson's beautiful new book of stories, “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden,” is in certain respects a successor to “Jesus' Son.” Its characters, too, tend to be nonconformists driven to desperation, though the desperation here can be less overt and can assume various forms.... The word largesse isn't much used anymore. Perhaps it refers to a kind of profound and liberal bounteousness that isn't often to be observed in American life today. But it's a perfect word to describe Johnson's fiction, which overflows with creative energy, moving from one beauty to another with a mercurial, at times almost chaotic grace. Although his characters are often diminished and winnowed by their struggles with life, the narrative voice that describes their travails gives evidence of an imagination that is nearly boundless in its generosity and abundance.
—Chicago Tribune
The stories in “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden" are pleasantly baggy. We still get Johnson's signature compressed poetry in spots, but long stretches intentionally meander.... [T]he main thing linking “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden" to “Jesus's Son" is the sentences. Oh, the sentences!... Johnson offers visions and sadness and laughter. But it's the sentences — those adamantine, poetic sentences — that made him one of America's great and lasting writers. It's the sentences that live on.
—Boston Globe
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