Big Loves: Tyrone Jaeger on Jesus’ Son

Today’s Big Loves guest is Tyrone Jaeger, Hendrix-Murphy Writer-in-Residence at Hendrix College.

 Tyrone Jaeger Pushes Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son

A hitchhiker with druggy clairvoyance accepts a ride in the rain . . . an ER worker witnesses angels descending at the drive-in . . . A man taunts his girlfriend moments after her abortion . . . A recovering addict spies on a Mennonite couple making love. He’s getting a little better every day . . .

I’ve been rereading Jesus’ Son for twenty years now. Each time I hear the narrator’s voice in my head, it’s like I’m in the presence of a trembling spirit, that sentence-by-sentence cloaks itself in muscle and bone and the ache of being alive.

Told through a train wreck of regret and longing, the stories in Jesus’ Son unapologetically expose the malignancies of the human heart. The unnamed narrator is only known to us by his nickname: Fuckhead. His friends and acquaintances are emotional cripples—drifters pulled out of a Flannery O’Connor police lineup. These are people like Dundun, who intentionally shoots and accidentally kills one of his friends. Of Dundun, the narrator says: “Will you believe me when I tell you there was kindness in his heart? His left hand didn’t know what his right hand was doing. It was only that certain important connections had been burned through. If I opened your head and ran a hot soldering iron around in your brain, I might turn you into someone like that.”

I admire Jesus’ Son for the way its vivid and precise prose lashes human weakness and fear to the page. I admire the humor that rises out the honesty, the eye that never flinches, even in its shame.

The collection’s first story, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” ends with a flash-forward of the narrator hallucinating in detox: “It was raining. Gigantic ferns leaned over us. The forest drifted down a hill. I could hear a creek rushing down among rocks. And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.”

Funny, when I first read those lines I had no way to respond. Help me? But after twenty years, I’m still pushing the stories on friends and students. Here, I say, try some of this. I think you’ll like it. It’ll help … Oh yeah, don’t worry, there’s more where that came from.

 Please visit Memorious Magazine at for fiction, poetry, interviews, and art song.

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