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  • Jon Curley

Epicenters, Epitaphs, Convergences

Yesterday morning/mourning, getting ready for a long, largely satisfying slog of paper grading, I tucked into the behemoth of the late Denis Johnson's 2007 novel TREE OF SMOKE. On page 104 I encountered a reference to my hometown, Bridgewater, MA...

"Did you say Boston? I grew up in Bridgewater. Near there."


Oh. My. Denis Johnson!


This passage in a carnivalesque, cacophonous epic of American involvement in Vietnam brought euphoria of recognition and also meditation on exhilarating, imagined scenarios. Did Denis Johnson ever set foot in this locale? What would he have made of it? What did he make of it? Johnson died in May 2017 and he has been with me as radiant revenant ever since. Long before, he was a mentor through a mentor: my undergraduate fiction teacher, James Assatly, then dying of AIDS and yet never diminishing in humor, intellect, and teaching finesse, recommended Johnson's ANGELS to me. I devoured the words and immediately recognized the author's wings of angelic author-ity.


I so wish I could invite James to my town. Denis too. We would make a fine coffee-fiending crew. Oh, their spirits there. Here. Perhaps we could invite David Foster Wallace, he too gone far too young. He makes a reference to Bridgewater in INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN. David, Denis, James, and Jon: if we can get it together, let's arrange to meet. But of course we already do: through your works, the memories of those works, and the memorials to you holy heralds--your words, your lives--you carry us everyplace. And elsewhere.



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