‘Steady Hands At Seattle General’ by Denis Johnson

Steady Hands At Seattle General by Denis Johnson, 1992

The magic trick:

Using a meta-fiction trick to hold up a mirror to the drug-addled chaos of Jesus’ Son


Denis Johnson goes meta today as we continue to work through Jesus’ Son. His narrator is talking to a fellow junkie in drug rehab. It becomes an interview specifically for the reader. I’m a writer, he tells him. Describe yourself for the people.

It’s a little on the nose. A little too much.

But what it does do, on the positive side, is hold up a mirror to the chaos of Jesus’ Son for the first time. We get our first sense of outright shame.

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

The selection:

“Someday people are going to read about you in a story or poem. Will you describe yourself for those people?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m a fat piece of shit, I guess.”

“No. I’m serious.”

“You’re not going to write about me.”

“Hey, I’m a writer.”

“Well then, just tell them I’m overweight.”

“He’s overweight.”

“I been shot twice.”


“Once by each wife, for a total of three bullets, making four holes, three ins and one out.”

“And you’re still alive.”

“Are you going to change any of this for your poem?”

“No. It’s going in word for word.”


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