cover image Train Dreams

Train Dreams

Denis Johnson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18 (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-28114-4

Readers eager for a fat follow-up to Tree of Smoke could be forgiven a modicum of skepticism at this tidy volume%E2%80%94a reissue of a 2003 O. Henry Prize%E2%80%93winning novella that originally appeared in the Paris Review%E2%80%94but it would be a shame to pass up a chance to encounter the synthesis of Johnson's epic sensibilities rendered in miniature in the clipped tone of Jesus' Son. The story is a snapshot of early 20th-century America as railroad laborer Robert Granier toils along the rails that will connect the states and transform his itinerant way of life. Drinking in tent towns and spending summers in the wilds of Idaho, Granier misses the fire back home that leaves no trace of his wife and child. The years bring diminishing opportunities, strange encounters, and stranger dreams, but it's not until after participating in the miracle of flight%E2%80%94and a life-changing encounter with a mythical monster%E2%80%94that Granier realizes what he's been looking for. An ode to the vanished West that captures the splendor of the Rockies as much as the small human mysteries that pass through them, this svelte stand-alone has the virtue of being a gem in itself, and, for the uninitiated, a perfect introduction to Johnson. (Sept.)