• Train Dreams

  • A Novella
  • By: Denis Johnson
  • Narrated by: Will Patton
  • Length: 2 hrs and 22 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (245 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions.

Robert Grainer is a day laborer in the American West at the start of the 20th 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—its otherworldly flora and fauna, its rugged loggers and bridge builders—the new novella by the National Book Award-winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

©2002 Denis Johnson (P)2011 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

“[A] severely lovely tale . . . The visionary, miraculous element in Johnson’s deceptively tough realism makes beautiful appearances in this book…The hard, declarative sentences keep their powder dry for pages at a time, and then suddenly flare into lyricism; the natural world of the American West is examined, logged, and frequently transfigured.” (James Wood, The New Yorker)
“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.” ( Publisher’s Weekly)
“National Book Award-winner 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.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist)

What listeners say about Train Dreams

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist

The novella begins and ends with cries to others, in between Robert Granier is usually alone in the Pacific Northwest.

Why four and not five? A few word choices took me out of Robert Grainer's introspection, during shifts between descriptions of the valley and Granier’s thoughts, and the narrative leaps were jarring at times.

Will Patton does an excellent job. His voice is weary, optimistic, intelligent, detached. But this is a laconic open man, and while the characterizations are distinctive, Patton’s voice is better suited for Saigon (“Tree of Smoke”), New Orleans (James Lee Burke) or Manhattan (“Cosmopolis”).

(Train Dreams was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. For the first time since the 1970s, there was no award for Fiction.)

A complaint: the cover is a desaturated Thomas Hart Benton-like scene, a race between horse and Iron Horse across the dull lumpy prairie. It is misleading. The train dreams are not those of man against machine; this is not John Henry. I interpreted the title as a command: train your dreams.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Mr. Johnson + Mr Patton = Priceless

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely without hesitation. This is the first audio book I have ever listened to two times in a row. .Patton is masterful once again. This may be one of his best performances. Johnson is hypnotic in both his language and his story. I have liked every book by Mr. Johnson starting with Tree of Smoke. This one is short but call it a 'small wonder'.

What did you like best about this story?

Before you know it each word, each line has pulled you unsuspectingly into a world you can not predict. You pick up your brain and look around and wonder how you got here....like a dream.

What does Will Patton bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He breaths life and atmosphere into a the words and characters like no one else and is simply not possible with the written word.

If you could rename Train Dreams, what would you call it?

Sorry. You do not mess with a masterpiece.

Any additional comments?

Simply a gem. Eagerly awaiting more from Johnson.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

short and beautiful

beautiful narration of beautifully descriptive writing. one man's life- a life so far from what we live today

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    3 out of 5 stars
  • z
  • 06-18-21

enjoyable short stories, exceptional performance

enjoyed this. the writing is excellent. the stories pretty entertaining. the voice performance was awesome. perfect for the writing.

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Incredible

Some of the best narration I've ever heard and all of it written in a powerful voice. Truly incredible book and production.

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amazingly raw!

it is nothing short of raw unabashed reality. an amazing and quite frankly a must read!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating Tale

Denis Johnson is a great writer. A gripping tale of one man's life. Does not disappoint.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

So Much Story Packed in to a Novella

Will Patton's narration was absolutely perfect for this book. It was mesmerizing and added so much to the experience! An amazing performance.

Train Dreams follows the life of Robert Grainier, an uneducated journeyman laborer living in Northern Idaho from the 1880s to the 1960s. As a young man, Robert worked on crews constructing railroad trestles and as he got older he settled in to less strenuous work. Each chapter touches on notable experiences in Robert's life. He had a hard life, raw and gritty, and he experienced his share of loss and sadness. The writing is fantastic and not a word is wasted. Johnson paints the Idaho setting perfectly.

Some of the characters Robert runs across deserve their own novella, namely Arn Peeples the crazy logger and Peterson, the guy who was shot by his own dog. Kind of.

When you are done listening you'll be surprised that the author crammed this much story in to two hours and twenty minutes. This is an absolute classic. It will stay with you. I will listen again. Ten stars.

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Too violent

Hate speech was hard to listen to. Even in a historical context. The story was uneven so I only got into the first hour of it.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

A short dull book

For the money - this book is way too short.
It's poetic with lot's of great images being painted with words, but there's not enough dialogue. I feel let down because I've enjoyed some of his other books. Oh well...