Denis Johnson ought to have had a free pass. Denis Johnson ought to have been exempt. To write as he did, in this crucible of a world, it ought to be worth more than to die on Wednesday at 67, or perhaps to die at all. Think of the transcendent power of his sentences, the ruthless honesty, the unexpected turns.
A decade or so ago, shortly after I became book editor of the Los Angeles Times, I wrote a piece defending the liberties of memoirists. This was in the wake of the scandal over James Frey and his memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” which was debunked after it was selected for Oprah’s Book Club. Frey lied about nearly everything, including a train accident and the amount of time he’d spent in jail. And yet, what of the readers who had been legitimately moved by his confession, false or otherwise?
Claire Dederer would like you to know that she’s no longer sad. Or no: It’s not that she would like you to know exactly, it’s the answer to a question, but the inquiry seems appropriate. Late in her memoir Love and Trouble — the final chapter — she describes a trip she made with her best friend Victoria during “the rainy-ass winter of 2015” to Utah’s Spiral Jetty. “We were both as sad as ever,” she writes, “but making elaborate travel plans was a kind of bulwark against the sadness.” Indeed.