Denis Johnson’s “Emergency

Denis Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This story can be found here: https://www.narrativemagazine.com/issues/stories-week-2014-2015/story-week/emergency-denis-johnson

In this story, another first person narrator reflects back on a time he worked in the emergency room. There’s a lot to admire about the story – voice, reliability, humor (dark though it be). Like “Drinking Coffee Elswhere”, it has a very carefully designed structure, which I encourage you to comment on below.

But the thing I want you to watch closely as you read is Johnson’s use of dialogue. For dialogue to work well, it should do two things – sound authentic, and move the story forward. How does the dialogue here do these two things? Is it effective?

Also, notice how in at least one section, the dialogue is disharmonious, which is to say that the two speakers are both talking, but not really to each other. What is the effect of this?

Also feel free to post any other comments, observations, reactions you have about the stories. Shoot for 250-300 words.

Please post your comments below no later than 2:00 on Thursday. Then, stay online between 2-3:30, and respond to at least two of these posts.

 

 

In the film version of JESUS’ SON (the story collection in which “Emergency” appears, Denis Johnson plays the man with a knife stuck in his eye.

 

ZZ Packer’s “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”

This story can be found here:  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2000/06/19/drinking-coffee-elsewhere

This story deals with a lot of social and identity issues – race, sexual identity, fear of intimacy, etc. It’s written in 1st person, in a voice that slowly reveals the character to us. It’s a good example of the “unreliable narrator” that fits the character well. As one who does not reveal herself easily, we sometimes have to read between the lines to see her true character, which she tries to conceal from us.

 

What I’d most like you to focus on as you read is the narrative structure. Stories – even in 1st person stories – are best told as a sequence of scenes. What are some of the scenes that stick with you the most after reading? How do these scenes build on each other to slowly lift the rising action? What is the dramatic vehicle that gets the story rolling? What do you see as the climactic moment? And finally, what is your reaction to the ending. Does it resolve enough for you?

Shoot for 250-300 words.

Please post your comments below no later than 2:00 on Thursday. Then, stay online between 2-3:30, and respond to at least three of these posts.