A trustworthy friend in college recommended Jesus’ Son to me. About 13 years later, I got around to reading it. After wading through the first half or so, I put it aside without a favorable impression. I thought maybe my moment for these stories had passed. Like Bukowski, maybe they seemed more interesting to undergrads. Stories of the gritty side of life that none of us had experienced. As I got older, I got a few glimpses of that grittier world, and I went running in the other direction.
A (different) friend noticed that I left two stars on GoodReads without comment and reached out. Amanda and I met one evening for dinner and talked about the book. What she made me realize is that I tend to want to place myself wholly in the shoes of the main character. Especially with a first-person narrator, I want to live and breathe this personality. I want to feel his choices and the effects of those choices. But that’s maybe not the best way to take Jesus’ Son.
I felt very uncomfortable and vulnerable reading this, which manifested in getting defensive against it. But Amanda helped me realize that this was a very safe way to view this world. I’m not actually there. I’m not actually too stoned to deal with a dangerous situation. I’m not driving a dead body around in my car without brakes. I’m not lost in the woods in a pick-up with some dying bunnies. I’m safe in my room/on the beach/at the coffee shop, just hearing a story about someone else’s life.
Once I could disconnect from the narrator in that way, I enjoyed these stories much more. I finished the book, and I could finally see the poetry in the language, in the images, and in the plot structures. I still don’t wish I knew this narrator in real life. But I appreciate that these stories gave me a glimpse into a world that’s safer viewed from the outside. And I’m grateful that Jesus’ Son and Amanda helped me learn how to read in a new way.
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