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"Everything on the spectrum of tragedy, from minor annoyance to universal tragedy, is okay. Anything better to any degree, all the way up to a colossal lottery jackpot or the return of Jesus---that's neat."

"Already Dead: A California Gothic" is a novel written by Denis Johnson, and published in 1997. It is set slightly earlier, during the first Gulf War, an event that is somewhat important to the events of the text. As the title would suggest, the book is about California, although not the California that many people think of: this is a book about rural Northern California, the area of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Denis Johnson has written many novels, but he came to popularity with Jesus' Son, a book about junkies, drifters and losers, and this book allows him to serve up many such descriptions of the sketchy side of life.

The last book I read by Denis Johnson was "Train Dreams", a book about rural Montana, and a book I read while living in rural Montana. It was very evocative of the area, and when I started this book, I was wondering if it would be quite so spot on. And it was. Some people not familiar with this book might wonder if this is a type of parody or caricature. It isn't. As the quote attests, this book is about people who like to live a mellow, calm life --- and would kill you without remorse for reneging on a drug deal. About people who want to get in touch with their spiritual side--- in between bouts of cocaine. It is about people, and communities, that live from one fad and scam to the next, and shrug off the damage that this type of lifestyle does because hey man, no reason to get excited. As a socially realistic portrayal of a culture with its own very severe hypocrisy, it is hilarious, and damning. Well, it will be hilarious to me once I get out of the zone described.

Beyond that, it is, as its subtitle suggests, a gothic. The drifters, dealers and assorted low-lives and scammers detailed in the book all are gears in an intricate plot that, while interesting to me, is still secondary to the portrayal of the landscape and culture. At a certain point, this arcane plot becomes literally that, as there are suggestions that the weird goings on spill over into the supernatural, although it is never directly stated whether that is literally happening or whether people's various substance abuses and personality disorders are spilling over into psychotic breaks.

When I first read "Jesus' Son", I thought that Denis Johnson was an author going for nothing else but "edgy" appeal. With each subsequent book I read by him, I see more clearly the tapestry he is weaving, and how well he understands, and can portray, the various sub-cultures and regions of the United States. I think many people would like this book, although it might not be as immediately relevant to them as it is to me.

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