Author: Denis Johnson
Released: 2000

The scariest thing about Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son is its singularity. The first time you read the book, it’s like someone ran a hot soldering iron around in your brain (to borrow the novel’s language). You’re changed permanently. And then, because the world is just as cruel as a beating with an extension cord (to borrow one of the novel’s images), you pursue Johnson’s other work and it doesn’t come close. You’re on the other side of your life post-Jesus’ Son, and it is horrible.

The Name of the World lifelessly follows a college professor whose wife and daughter have died in a car accident. His name is Michael Reed and he’s grief-stricken. But then he meets a woman—yes, a story where a young woman will save an older man from a ghastly, boner-less fate, oh boy!—named Flower Canon who demonstrates her vitality by doing things like shaving her pubic hair as part of a performance art piece. She’s got red hair, something that will stand out to Jesus’ Son freaks.

Little details like that, along with the occasional sentence sparking brilliance, only make the reader realize they’re reading the wrong book. Ditch the humdrum and read the sure-shot for the seventh time. —Ross Scarano