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Revolving Snub

Denis Johnson writes a noiresque novel, then skips the National Book Awards ceremony.

Book Cover National Book Award-winning writer Denis Johnson (Tree of Smoke) occupies an anomalous place in the melee that passes for the American literary culture. Viewed as a prickly sort and outsider (he lives in Northern Idaho and passed on attendance to the N.B.A. awards ceremony), Johnson's Jesus' Son (both the book and the film) won him a reverential cult audience and the questionable designation as a writer's writer. Personally, I am fond (if that verb can be applied to Johnson's discomfiting fictions) of Resuscitation of a Hanged Man and at this very moment am experiencing deep guilt for never getting around to reading his post-apocalyptic novel Fiskadoro. Johnson also seems ever to be known and attached to a scathing and unrelentingly vindictive critique by the Atlantic's resident petit inquisitor.

Nobody Move (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) is a droll, amusing, noiresque entertainment (first serialized in that great American literary institution, Playboy) that risks not being taken seriously, as easy to digest--such is the price of making things appear effortless. In it, assorted bottom feeders, oddballs, and lifelong felons vie for $2.3 million or their next drink and/or cigarette--whichever comes up first. It is a quintessentially American story, with Cadillac-driving Mafioso hitmen, high-spirited, alcoholic, Native American divorcees, and lots of cigarette smoking along with a fair amount of gunplay. No doubt there were lots of reviews that pegged this novel as a tribute to the American crime novel. Read 'em if you care.

Reportedly, one explanation for Johnson's demurral of the 2007 National Books Awards ceremony was a reportorial assignment in Kurdistan. Which I assure you, you'll want to read, because it's loaded with gems like this (and more):
And I'm thinking, Yes, this is the climax of the piece right here, affluent Kurds clowning around, the magazine's going to love this entertaining stuff, so why does that make me feel like a pimp in a burgundy velvet suit? Who are these people who keep Al Qaeda from infiltrating their homeland while the U.S. Army scratches its head and watches the rest of Iraq fall to pieces? And why haven't the New York Times and CNN taken notice? Here's a guess, just one possibility: because journalists are pimps for war, my friends, in burgundy velvet suits. And that's the news from here."
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