One Man’s Ambition
By Sasha Possick
As a young adult, there is nothing that I enjoy more than a short and simple read, and that is exactly what I thought I had when I had checked out Train Dreams. Yet, that ended up to not being the case at all. Who knew, that with only 116 pages, Denis Johnson could pack so much detail into just one short novella.
This fictional story, based in the twentieth century, consists of the life of an orphan sent by train to Idaho . This boy came to grow up in the woods of Idaho, and worked as part of a logging gang. Throughout this entire novella, there are exuberant amounts of symbolism. Grainier, the main character in this novel, works the railroads and the forests helping to fuel America’s push towards economic progress. Grainier ultimately falls in love and has a child, but loses his wife and his baby during a wildfire. As a result, Grainier falls into a depression, and turns into a sad sadistic man. Grainier lives through many epic twists and turns in this novel, from driving a horse cart to sitting in on a biplane ride.
Throughout this novel Denis Johnson paints vivid pictures of vast nature landscapes that the reader can fully imagine. All of the actions, and things that he endures cause Grainier to seem crazy by the end of the short story. Johnson used a very interesting writing style when he crafted this novella, instead of each paragraph having a set structure, each paragraph shows that it is a “paragraph by paragraph story”. Throughout this novel Denis Johnson uses the third person narrative and makes you feel as if you are in the action. We watch Grainier as he witnesses America go through traumatic changes that altered the United States forever. This novella contains many twists and turns, along with sporadic changes from action packed to just Grainier lying back and relaxing. A short excerpt from the novel; “The wolves and coyotes howled without letup all night, sounding in the hundreds, more than Grainier had ever heard, and maybe other creatures too, owls, eagles, what, exactly, he couldn’t guess, surely every single animal with a voice along the peaks and ridges looking down on the Moyea River, as if nothing could ease any of God’s beasts.” This is a perfect example of Denis Johnson’s writing style and the way that he assists the reader in visualizing his writing. The language that Denis uses is infact difficult language, yet it adds to his style of writing and to the appreciation of the story’s setting.
I have read many books that far surpass the number of pages of this novel, however no other novel has had the same impact on me as this one did.