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Patrick Bremer

Patrick Bremer is a recipient of the de Laszlo Foundation award and has worked with the New Yorker, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Cadillac, and Caltech. 


Illustration by Patrick Bremer


Spring 2018 | Essays

I resisted, at first, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. This collection of five short stories, the final new book by Denis Johnson, was announced shortly after the author’s death in May 2017, at sixty-seven, and although a galley arrived late that summer, I held it in abeyance for as long as I could. Something—the idea, perhaps, that these were the final new sentences Johnson would ever publish—made it feel like a last will and testament. “It doesn’t matter,” Johnson writes in “Triumph Over the Grave,” one of the stories gathered here. “The world keeps turning. It’s plain to you that at the time I write this, I’m not dead. But maybe by the time you read it.” The line recalls “Late Fragment,” the closing poem in Raymond Carver’s A New Path to the Waterfall, six brief lines of self-interrogation inscribed during his last days of life. “And did you get what / you wanted from this life, even so? / I did. / And what did you want? / To call myself beloved, to feel myself / beloved on the earth.” Johnson, however, provokes a different resonance, a different sort of immediacy. If Carver is looking back, creating his own epitaph, Johnson is projecting forward, speaking to us in a present he no longer occupies. I’m not dead, he insists. But maybe. The conditionality, the sense of language, of narrative, as instrument of both redemption and the impossibility of redemption—these have been among Johnson’s most abiding themes all along. “We lived in a tiny, dirty apartment,” he writes in “Out on Bail,” one of eleven linked stories that comprise his 1992 masterpiece Jesus’ Son. “When I realized how long I’d been out and how close I’d come to leaving it forever, our little home seemed to glitter like cheap jewelry. I was overjoyed not to be dead.”