‘Emergency’ by Denis Johnson

There’s no better subject for fiction than terrible people doing terrible things. I’ve been trying and failing to find a quote from Johnson I noted down a few months ago, along the lines of, “Some of us like to read stories about people shooting at each other, and some of us really are shooting at each other.” He made no secret that the stories in Jesus’ Son are from his life, or the lives of those close to him; all you really need to know is that the central character’s nickname, Fuckhead, was also Johnson’s. This is the story of his I keep circling back to, and to be honest it’s really only the first half I’m interested in – the stuff with the rabbits always feels like it’s trying a bit too hard. But what do I know? It’s obviously a masterpiece, and I could live in those opening pages for a long time.

Originally published in The New Yorker September 1991, and available to subscribers to read here. Subscribers can also listen to Tobias Wolff read it here. Collected in Jesus’ Son, Granta Books 2012. Also available to read online in Narrative Magazine)

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