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Extended Audio Sample Train Dreams: A Novella, by Denis Johnson Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (4,532 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Denis Johnson Narrator: Will Patton Publisher: Macmillan Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this novella by the National Book Award–winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “A tender, lonesome, and riveting story, an American epic writ small…It’s a love story, a hermit’s story, and a refashioning of age-old wolf-based folklore like “Little Red Cap.” It’s also a small masterpiece. You look up from the thing dazed, slightly changed…It might be the most powerful thing Johnson has ever written.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “An eloquent portrait of the early twentieth-century American West and an affecting tale of one man’s struggle to live with loss…[Johnson] proves his skill at drawing the kind of grim Americana you might expect from Cormac McCarthy or Annie Proulx. Indeed, Train Dreams has much in common with Proulx’s story ‘Brokeback Mountain’—the flinty Western setting, the roiling emotions of a quiet working man.”

    Washington Post

  • “Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is like a long out-of-print B-side, a hard-to-find celebrated work treasured by those in the know that’s finally become available to the rest of us…Train Dreams is a peculiarly gripping book. It palpably conjures the beauty of an American West, then still very much a place of natural wonder and menace, and places one man’s lonely life in that landscape, where he’s at once comfortably at home and utterly lost.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer

  • “Johnson captures the feeling of the woods and the small towns built around mining, logging, and the new railroads. Indians and Chinese laborers also play significant roles…The writing is spare and frequently beautiful; Johnson’s backwoods dialogue and tall tales are often hilarious; and he graces us with such wonderful words as ‘pulchritude’ and ‘confabulation’—it’s a shame we don’t hear them much anymore.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • Train Dreams puts me in mind of a late Bob Dylan album: with the wildness and psychedelia of youth burned out of him, Johnson’s eccentricity is revealed as pure Americana.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • “Johnson’s new novella may be his most pared-down work of fiction yet, but make no mistake—it packs a wallop…Train Dreams is a small book of weighty ideas. It renders the story of America and our westward course of empire in the most beautiful and heartbreaking manner imaginable…Train Dreams explores what was lost in the process of American growth. Much to his credit, Johnson doesn’t simply posit industry and nature against each other, or science and religion, or even human and animal, but instead looks at how their interactions can transform both. And [Robert] Grainier is there through all of this examination, over the course of his long and sad life, to serve as our witness and maybe even our conscience.”

    Miami Herald

  • “Johnson beautifully conveys what he calls ‘the steadying loneliness’ of most of Grainier’s life, the ordinary adventures of a simple man whose people are, we hear, ‘the hard people of the northwestern mountains,’ and toward the end even convinces us of his character’s inquisitive and perhaps even deeper nature than we might first have imagined.”


  • “Johnson has skillfully packed an epic tale into novella length in this account of the life of Idaho Panhandle railroad laborer Robert Grainer…The gothic sensibility of the wilderness and isolated settings and Native American folktales, peppered liberally with natural and human-made violence, add darkness to a work that lingers viscerally with readers.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “Johnson, ever the literary shape-shifter, looks back to America’s expansionist fever dream in a haunting frontier ballad about a loner named Robert Granier…Johnson draws on history and tall tales to adroitly infuse one contemplative man’s solitary life with the boundless mysteries of nature and the havoc of humankind’s breakneck technological insurgency, creating a concentrated, reverberating tale of ravishing solemnity and molten lyricism.”


  • “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.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • A 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Fiction
  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • One of the 2011 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Fiction
  • A 2011 Esquire Magazine Best Book of the Year for Fiction
  • A 2011 Los Angeles Times Best Book for Fiction

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Newengland | 2/10/2014

    " This is a one-day novella with honest, straight-forward writing chronicling the rather lonely life of a logger named Robert Grainier. Opens with a bang -- the violent death of an accused Chinese man among railroad workers. In a scene uncomfortable both physically and morally, Robert and a handful of other white men drag the fighting foreigner to the middle of the bridge they're building far above the Moyea River. It isn't pretty, but not a lot is in this stark book, including Grainier's brief marriage to a woman named Gladys. A real taste of the old northwest here, with fringes of magical realism thanks to Indian beliefs at times. Not a lot. Just enough to make the minimalist realism interesting. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Caley | 2/3/2014

    " Guess the bandwagon on this one passed me by. Too sparse, emotionally unfulfilling, and slightly... gasp... boring. I love period pieces and there's no doubt that Johnson nailed the history behind this one but there was some sort of missing link between character and reader that left me detached and disinterested. Maybe I was reading too fast? 3 stars. Pulitzer nominees always let me down. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Ashley Kjos | 1/30/2014

    " Good stuff. I agree with what most say, most of its power is derived from its brevity. Good atmosphere and a well rendered environment. Some odd disconnected passages. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Lee Ellen | 1/19/2014

    " When a wolf howls in the wilderness, there is a primal feeling that pricks the spine, a feeling whose depth is related to profound loneliness yet not quite tinged with despair. When one hears a wolf howl, one knows that he is way out there. That is the feeling this book evokes. Originally published as a short story, Train Dreams has been released as a novella that is well worth reading all at once. It is the story of a life - its protagonist, Grainier, lives out his life in northern Idaho with occasional forays into Washington and Oregon for woodsman's work and into Spokane for pleasure. Although he lives into the 1960's, most of the book takes place in the early 1900's, when Model-T Fords were a novelty and religion and superstition were great forces in the lives of men. Elegant yet spare in style, Denis Johnson places the reader in the story with all the senses: we get the smells and sounds of a burning forest, feel the hardness of life on the land, see the limpid beauty of a mountain sunset. This book is best experienced on a quiet evening when you have plenty of time to read it and then allow it to digest. "

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