The Taser's Edge

Nobody Move: A Novel by Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move reads like a movie, moreso than almost any other book I’ve read.  The author, a National Book Award winner for his 2007 Tree of Smoke, initially published this work in four serialized pieces in Playboy.  It’s interesting to read some of the criticism that was written before the whole piece was finished, as folks try to figure out where it’s going and offer critique along the way.

The book is short–196 pages–but there are two well-complicated stories (in classic noir style), with two well-complicated main characters (again, in classic noir style), who meet.  These main characters, a man and a woman of course, are given a literary roundness, and we know them well enough to understand something of why they hurtle towards self-destruction at top speed for the entire book.

In the first story, a member of a barbershop chorus (not to be confused with a barbershop quartet) runs into the violent consequences of an outsized gambling habit.  In the second story, a woman takes an embezzling charge for her husband, the local DA, and his accomplice, a local judge.  The romance of the two main characters is about as pathetic as it gets, even though it works to both of their benefit.

And what kind of movie would this be similar to?  Tarantino probably (Jackie Brown style), or maybe Guy Ritchie, but not in a derivative way at all. More like a very well-written (very unlike Elmore Leonard) and very visual crime novel way.  The Coen brothers could really do it justice, in homage to William Faulkner’s/Raymond Chandler’s/Howard Hawks’ work on The Big Sleep.

This is the first book by Johnson which I have read.  Here we have two gangsters who are friends with matching white Cadillacs, a 5′ 8″ guy known as The Tall Man, people changing clothes (costumes?) almost constantly to evade being seen by each other, a river that keeps coming back into the center of the story, a cheap motel made out of real logs, very specific guns and information on them (such as reliable brands of ammunition and the fact that a pistol-grip shotgun is illegal in California), and the image of a chalk outline that ends at the knees (ick, but a memorable image).  I would be interested to explore whether Johnson writes so visually in his other books.

Nobody Move is well written and it’s a quick read due to how much of it is pure dialogue.  It might be interesting to revisit and read this as four separate pieces sometime, just as it was published, so you might try that when you pick it up.  For now, I think I’ll wait for the movie and check out Johnson’s National Book Award winner, Tree of Smoke.