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Category: Nobody Move

Serial killer: Denis Johnson’s 'Nobody Move'

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Denis175 Editor's note: On Friday, Playboy published the first section of Denis Johnson’s “Nobody Move,” a serialized work of fiction that will come out in four parts. Jacket Copy will review “Nobody Move,” installment by installment; below, our take on Part 1.

My wife is appalled at Denis Johnson. “Why Playboy?” she wants to know. She’s referring, of course, to the venue for Johnson’s latest project, “Nobody Move,” a 40,000-word “novel” that the magazine is publishing as a serial in four installments; the first, in the July issue, has just come out.

As for me, I’m more interested in the way “Nobody Move” might help further eclipse the line between mass culture and literature, between the throwaway nature of periodicals and the lasting weight of art. Although serials are not as uncommon as they once were — see Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City,” Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” Stephen King’s “The Green Mile” and Michael Chabon’s “Gentlemen of the Road” — they require novelists who can think like journalists, who can write on deadline, who aren’t afraid to make a mess.

This is cool, exhilarating even, especially in a world in which literary culture is often far too insular, like a form of trivial pursuit. Johnson is one of those rare writers who wants to walk both sides of the line here, to go after a mass readership with work that challenges at every turn. That’s one of the things that attracts me to “Nobody Move,” the idea of Johnson’s bleakly existential vision woven in amid the naked women and advice columns on how to live the good life, as if he were the voice of the collective unconscious — or, more accurately, of the collective id.

Not only that, but “Nobody Move” comes billed as a noir, that darkest of American genres, the literary equivalent of the blues.

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Watch this space: Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson's last book, Tree of Smoke, won the National Book Award. Now, reports the New York Times, his new novel, Nobody Move, will appear in four monthly installments in Playboy, beginning with the July 2008 issue, which hits newsstands today.

Playboy's too smart to make Nobody Move available on its website; the idea is to sell magazines, after all. But if you're interested in what Johnson is up to, we'll have the story covered right here. Over the next four months, I'll be reviewing each installment on Jacket Copy as it comes out. In addition, we'll host a series of discussions about the novel, Johnson's work in general and the fine art of the serial.

So stay tuned. The first review goes live on Monday, with commentary and conversation after that.

David L. Ulin

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