A review of

The Unfortunates

by B. S. Johnson

Central question: How many times can one shuffle an elegy?
Format: Boxed paperbook; Size: 5" x 8"; Price: $24.95; Publisher: New Directions; Editor: Declan Spring; Book designer: The Senate, U.K.; Representative sentence: “It was obvious to me that even if he was still there the following week, he would be less able to talk, at the rate he was deteriorating, disintegrating, so the last thing I said to him, all I had to give him, alone with him, with my coat on, about to go, the car waiting outside to run us to the station, staring down at him, facing those eyes, he staring back all the time now, it must have been a great effort for him, yes, and I said, it was all I had, what else could I do, I said, I’ll get it all down, mate.”

The book arrives in a box shaped like a book. Contained within the box are twenty-eight slight pamphlets (including the excellent introduction written by Jonathan Coe) bound neatly by a red paper band. First published in 1969, The Unfortunates has never stayed in print for very long, and it is not well-known to today’s reading public. The writer, too, who killed himself when he was forty years old, remains largely unknown, even though writers like Samuel Beckett endorsed his work during his lifetime.

One reason for Johnson’s obscurity might be that he is simply a difficult writer to peg. Although often categorized as “an experimental writer,” Johnson is a remarkably easy read.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Linden Park

Linden Park lives in New York City with his wife and two daughters.

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