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.