Denis Johnson’s “Seek”

Just now, just this moment, I finished the last essay in Denis Johnson’s “Seek,” thus completing the book.  Holy Christ.  As one of the assigned readings for my writing class this fall, it pairs well with another assigned author, David Foster Wallace.  So it’s only natural that I compare “Seek” with DFW’s essays.  Verdict?  DJ’s writing is a run-away diesel truck crashing through the aluminum scaffolding of DFW’s comparatively over-intellectualized essays.  The final piece in “Seek,” The Small Boys’ Unit, is an amazing work that bloodies A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again‘s nose in the most visceral manner (the essay, not necessarily the eponymous book).  This isn’t to say DJ’s travels through Liberia and the Ivory Coast in The Small Boys’ Unit is a cavalier macho romp to some sort of dandified cruise ship vacation.  Quite the opposite: DJ is crushed and shattered but held together like a duct-taped window in a hurricane, and he communicates that feeling so strongly.  The capricious arbitrariness DJ experiences while attempting to leave the Ivory Coast makes DFW’s depression in Supposedly Fun Thing seem…theoretical.

And really, I had no idea.  For days I’d been so focused on getting out of Liberia that I’d forgotten how I’d circumvented the Commissaire de Police in Danane; but he hadn’t forgotten me.

“You’re an officer?” I said.

“No. Just a corporal.”

“Corporal,” I said.  “Save me.”

He stayed silent a while and finally said, “I don’t know.  It’s nothing here.  Don’t worry.”

The whole town of Danane was dark as we came to it.  Cattle sleeping in the street had to get up and move for us.  The entryway to the police station was dark, too, when we pulled up in front of it.  “Is it closed?” I asked in hope.

“No,” the corporal said.  “We’ll go there.”

“Please.  Corporal.  Save me.”

“If I can help,” he said.  “But I don’t think so.”

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