‘The Other Man’ by Denis Johnson

The Other Man by Denis Johnson, 1990

The magic trick:

Presenting three separate encounters – each seemingly potentially important to the story but as it turns out not particularly important at all

If you left yesterday’s feature, “Two Men,” a little confused as to who the two men were, don’t worry, Denis Johnson picks up the story a little bit later in the Jesus’ Son collection. Then again, maybe you should worry, because “The Other Man” references the previous story, but then does little to clear up the confusion.

This, of course, is the beauty of Jesus’ Son. Its stories are more interconnected than most collections, and yet that interconnection provides almost no clarity. Our narrator’s web of experiences is jumbled at best.

“The Other Man” is one of the more jumbled stories in the collection, too. It consists mainly of three encounters. None is particularly important or fleshed out. But in the moment, with each, our narrator has a way of highlighting them so that they feel important. They feel meaningful or potentially changing.

Otherwise, we think as a reader, why would he be telling us about them?

But that too is the beauty of Jesus’ Son. All roads feel momentous at the time, but they all are dead ends.

And that’s quite a trick on Johnson’s part.

The selection:

The sky was a bruised red shot with black, almost exactly the colors of a tattoo. Sunset had two minutes left to live.

The street I stood on rolled down a long hill toward First and Second Avenue, the lowest part of town. My feet carried me away down the hill. I danced on my despair. I trembled outside a tavern called Kelly’s, nothing but a joint, its insides swimming in a cheesy light. Peeking inside I thought, If I have to go in there and drink with those old men.

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