Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 545
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is a short story collection by American writer Denis Johnson, which is composed of five stories that are semi-autobiographical in nature. The book was published one year after Johnson's death. Fans and literary critics interpret the work as Johnson's farewell to the world, and...
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The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is a short story collection by American writer Denis Johnson, which is composed of five stories that are semi-autobiographical in nature. The book was published one year after Johnson's death. Fans and literary critics interpret the work as Johnson's farewell to the world, and an introspective memoir-fiction hybrid that examines his past, his career, and the future that lied ahead.
That means to write what you would never say.
In the stories, there is a recurring theme of regret, whether it's things that Johnson did that caused shame or things he did not have the chance to fulfill. One of those was, in Johnson's opinion, was writing with pure honesty. Although Johnson's work as already known for honesty, in the last years of the author's life he believed he could have written in a more unfiltered way. In the titular story, Johnson talks about the people he used to know in his past and the regrets of not saying what he wanted to express when he was still in contact with them. Johnson's writing manifesto emphasizes a pure form of writing, in which one articulates his/her true emotions without inhibition. In a sense, this manifesto sets up the style and prosaic structure of the The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, which is a hybrid of essay writing and fictional narratives.
Write in blood.
As if ink is so precious you can’t waste it.
It is apparent that Johnson was aware of his health problems and the possibility of death. Indeed, Johnson would die before the book was published. Johnson was conscious of the time he had left to write his last work, and thus believed that words should not be wasted on the trivial. This method of writing was not only a reaction to the reality of his own mortality, but is an advice to future writers in how they should approach their work.
Write in exile
as if you are never going to get home again, and you have to call back every detail.
The theme of home is recurring throughout the book as a metaphor. Home could be a substitute term for the past, or a time in Johnson's life when he was happy and content, which are feelings one has when they are back in their childhood home. Home could also be a metaphor for life itself. He is recollecting every detail that he knows he will lose in death. By recording these details in writing, Johnson is attempting to immortalize himself.
I note that I've lived longer in the past now, than I can expect to live in the future. I have more to remember than I have to look forward to. Memory fades, not much of the past stays, and I wouldn't mind forgetting more of it.
The themes of memory and the push-pull mechanism of the past, present and future are recurring throughout the stories in the book. Johnson has examined his past almost obsessively, recounting various events and people in his life, but, in the end, he realizes that these memories will become obsolete when he dies. Finally, he realizes that he should focus on the "great unknown," his future in the afterlife, if there is such a thing.