main ad larger image margaret johnson email
main ad two


Train Dreams

by Denis Johnson

Read by Will Patton

Macmillan Audio | 2011 | Running time: 2 ½ hours, 2 CDs | $17.99

Reviewed by Michael Carey

Denis Johnson is an award-winning author with an impressive and diverse bibliography. His latest endeavor, Train Dreams, a novella, is a tribute to the Northwest woods, from west Montana to Spokane, and its people in the early 1900s. For this audio book, the actor Will Patton delivers Johnson’s words with a slow, gravelly voice that encourages the listener to envision a rough woodsman or rail worker who might be spinning this tale in a saloon or by a campfire in the woods.

Train Dreams is the story of Robert Grainier, a man from nowhere raised by his aunt and uncle in the Idaho panhandle. The story recounts his many experiences with death, love, loss, superstition, and technology as he survives 80 years in the harsh unforgiving woods of Idaho.

Grainer is a calm and agreeable man that we can all relate to in some form or fashion, and the story of his life is told with humor and compelling descriptions that help the listener envision the terrain and setting, placing you beside the man himself. Unfortunately, the disjointed chronology of the story left me struggling to follow the timeline of the story and, ultimately, its point. The listener must weather the episodes of Grainer’s life that contain weird, shocking, endearing, and sometimes heart-wrenching turns of events including the fire that consumed his home and everything he loved, the legend of the wolf-girl, the dying hobo he met by the river as a kid, and the man who was shot by his own dog. But in the end, despite the difficult subject matter, the story resonates with meaning and universality.

The novella is not just a story of Robert Grainier. It is the story of a simple man and the journey of his life; a story of many of his neighbors and their way of life, all of whom endured extraordinary challenges and changes, but were never given much regard or notice. It is a story of the region and the times that were strange and hard and are now nearly forgotten. “And suddenly it all went black and was gone forever.”

I enjoyed the experience of listening to this book. The presentation was fitting for the subject matter, making it easy to slide into the world of Train Dreams. The episodes were compelling on their own, and as I removed myself from the story and the characters, it became clearer to me, at the closing of the story, just what I had experienced. It was a two and a half hour journey I’m glad I took. This audio book would make a perfect companion for a short road trip or a stroll through the woods.

Return to home page