In The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story, I have read “Emergency” (1991), set in a problematic 1973. It begins with common trauma and sensitivity in a city emergency room before centering on the illicit drug experiences of two of the ER’s orderlies. The title summons the thought of there being a true state of emergency for modern Americans/Westerners. They’re spiritually adrift. (One of the orderlies feels like going to chapel.) A man who can make the claim that “I save people” ought not to be a drug addict.
A Denis Johnson story, “Emergency” remains relevant to our times. Unerringly written—Johnson was right, after the orderlies take a car ride, to return the piece to the hospital for a short passage—the story is clever and humorous and grim. Not to be considered DOA.
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