After dinner, nobody went home right away. I think we’d enjoyed the meal so much we hoped Elaine would serve us the whole thing all over again. These were people we’ve gotten to know a little from Elaine’s volunteer work—nobody from my work, nobody from the ad agency. We sat around in the living room describing the loudest sounds we’d ever heard. One said it was his wife’s voice when she told him she didn’t love him anymore and wanted a divorce. Another recalled the pounding of his heart when he suffered a coronary. Tia Jones had become a grandmother at the age of thirty-seven and hoped never again to hear anything so loud as her granddaughter crying in her sixteen-year-old daughter’s arms. Her husband, Ralph, said it hurt his ears whenever his brother opened his mouth in public, because his brother had Tourette’s syndrome and erupted with remarks like “I masturbate! Your penis smells good!” in front of perfect strangers on a bus or during a movie, or even in church.
Young Chris Case reversed the direction and introduced the topic of silences. He said the most silent thing he’d ever heard was the land mine taking off his right leg outside Kabul, Afghanistan.
As for other silences, nobody . . .
Denis Johnson Leaves Us With His Best In ‘Largesse Of The Sea Maiden’ 1/20/18 ~ NPR
Hardcover, 207 pages
Nobody ever wrote like Denis Johnson. Nobody ever came close. The author of books like Jesus’ Son and Tree of Smoke was a hardcore minimalist who could say in one sentence what other writers wouldn’t be able to say in a whole chapter. His stories and novels embraced the dark, but reluctantly; he refused to shy away from the brutal, the violent and the desperate. He was the last of his breed, and it was a breed of one.
Johnson died of liver cancer last May, but not before finishing The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, his first short story collection in 25 years. According to his publisher, it’s the last book we’ll ever see from Johnson, and the hell of it is, it’s one of the best he ever wrote.
The collection opens with the title story, about a man is his early 60s reckoning with the loss of a friend and the winding down of his career in advertising. He finds himself thinking of mortality: his own, and his loved ones’, particularly his life partner: “Elaine: she’s petite, lithe, quite smart; short gray hair, no make-up. A good companion. At any moment — the very next second — she could be dead.”
When he goes to New York to receive a prize for a television commercial he worked on years ago, he’s reminded of the inevitability of decline, and how the passage of time can be as cruel as it is ameliorative: “I note that I’ve lived longer in the past, now, than I can expect to live in the future. I have more to remember than I have to look forward to. Memory fades, not much of the past stays, and I wouldn’t mind forgetting a lot more of it.” It’s a stunning story, dark, certainly, but not oppressive.