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RESUSCITATION OF A HANGED MAN by Denis Johnson Kirkus Star

RESUSCITATION OF A HANGED MAN

By Denis Johnson

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 374-24949-0
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Poet and novelist Johnson (The Stars at Noon, 1986, etc.) further elaborates his disorienting vision of a cracked world in this unnerving and edgy novel--a very hip sort of postmodern Catholic fiction that keeps you off-balance with all its genre-blending and gender-bending. A Walker Percy-ish "knight of faith" pursues his paranoid quest-romance in the Provincetown of Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance. Far more spiritually corrupt and confused than any Percy character, however, Leonard English really seeks oblivion. A former medical-supplies salesman from Kansas, Lenny arrives on the tip of Cape Cod in the off-season to begin his part-time jobs as a graveyard D.J. and unlicensed p.i. A self-described nobody, for whom "nothing connects," this failed suicide roams the Cape, "wondering about Heaven all the time" and pondering the mystery of the Resurrection. In a local church, he glimpses the woman of his dreams--a raven-haired beauty who happens to be a lesbian and the subject of one of his desultory investigations. Lenny's work for the elderly Ray Sands, a retired cop, always makes him feel dirty. Sands's mysterious activities for a group called the "Truth Infantry" feed Lenny's worst fears, as does a bizarre late-night kidnapping that leaves him worse for wear. God-crazed and faced with Hell's random fury, Lenny becomes Leanna's bedmate, though her heterosexual experiment doesn't come to fruition until one particularly weird moment when Lenny admits his darkest secret: the autoerotic consequence of his suicide attempt by hanging. When their awkward love falters, and strange events accrue, Lenny's psychosis blooms; delusions of his incarnation mount. Lenny's Second Coming finds him a cross-dressing would-be assassin of a local bishop. And while the transvestism allows him to blend into the scenery, his gun-toting lands him in the slammer--where he finds peace eternal. Johnson's jagged dialogue, elliptical phrasing, and odd-ball metaphors all serve his cool metaphysical purposes--a tension-driven detective story in which the major mystery is: God or nothingness? Readers will be surprised by demented joy in this cosmically charged fiction that combines hard-boiled theology and a redeeming wit--the perfect spiritual tonics for tough times.