Re-creations, Adaptations, and “Rip-offs”

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Jesus’ Son is often considered the seminal work of Denis Johnson’s career. But recently Johnson called the book a “rip-off” of Isaac Babel’s early 20th century work, Red Cavalry. For The Millions, Nathan Scott McNamara contests Johnson’s assertion, arguing that “rip-off” is not the proper word to describe the influence of Red Cavalry on the author’s story collection:

In Jesus’ Son, the stories and execution certainly have a lot in common with Red Cavalry and — in considering them closely — it seems right for Johnson to acknowledge his debt. But do the similarities diminish any of the virtues of either book? Even more than in the case of the most liberal of re-creations, adaptations, or “rip-offs,” it seems to me that each book is still its own radical thing.


Jake Slovis earned his MFA in Writing from Rutgers University, where he now teaches English Composition. He is a second-generation Argentine American and has spent significant time living and writing in Buenos Aires. He currently resides in Brooklyn. More from this author →