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Tree of Smoke: A Novel by Denis Johnson
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Tree of Smoke: A Novel (2007)

by Denis Johnson

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1,987685,035 (3.56)123
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English (65)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (68)
Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
I'm a Denis Johnson fan. I enjoyed a lot of this, but it just seemed to go on and on for no apparent reason at some points. The book was so all over the place that I found myself lost quite often in terms of who was who and the storyline. Not quite of a slog as Catch 22, but it was approaching that territory. I wanted to like it more than I did because I like the author and, of course, there was a lot of hype surrounding the book. Tree of Smoke had its moments and I'm glad I read it, but ultimately it was just too long and disorganized for a better review. ( )
  akissner | Aug 1, 2018 |
This was a good ride. Immersive, sweaty, worth a reread one of these days. ( )
  lisapeet | Apr 29, 2018 |
Se me ha hecho muy largo y pesado. ( )
  cuentosalgernon | Jul 5, 2017 |
“And I will give portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and palm trees of trees of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”

- Joel 2:30-32

"They were born into a land at war. Born into a time of trial that never ends.”

This is the late Mr. Johnson's magnum opus on the Vietnam war. I wish I could say I loved it. The novel begins in 1963, and focuses on William “Skip” Sands, a CIA operative and alternates with two brothers, from Arizona that become soldiers, in southwest Asia. The story follows these characters through 1970 and then revisits them in the early 80s, as broken men. This is closer to Graham Greene, than Matterhorn, a book I absolutely loved. This is a National Book award winner, so maybe I missed certain themes or the author's hidden message but I never fully engaged with the characters. There is still much to admire, the ambition and some fine writing but this overlong ode to a pointless, bitter war just didn't work for me. ( )
  msf59 | Jul 2, 2017 |
Pretty good, especially after it got going. Didn't care for the last chapter of the book, which concludes without, I think, really plumbing the depths of the themes hinted at earlier in the book. For my money, Tim O'Brien still gives the definitive literary interpretation of the war in Viet Nam. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
The labyrinthine Tree of Smoke is full of hitches, tangents, but it reads exceedingly fast. It suggests a protracted war that moved in an exacting blur.
 
When a novel’s first words are “Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed,” and the rest of it evinces no more feel for the English language and often a good deal less, and America’s most revered living writer touts “prose of amazing power and stylishness” on the back cover, and reviewers agree that whatever may be wrong with the book, there’s no faulting its finely crafted sentences—when I see all this, I begin to smell a rat.
 
In fact, since the publication of his first novel, in 1983, he has been preoccupied with the paradoxical notions of self-sacrifice and salvation in our modern world—but never before has Johnson’s writing been quite so haunted and harrowing as it is in his massive new novel, twenty-five years in the works.
 
Johnson's orchestration of these characters' intersecting lives is often graceless — as his last couple of novels have demonstrated, plotting has never been one of his strengths — and he has an unfortunate tendency to embroider their adventures with lots of portentous philosophizing about good and evil and religious faith. His heat-seeking eye for detail and his ability to render those observations in hot, tactile prose, however, immerse us so thoroughly in the fetid world of the war and the even more noxious world of espionage that they effectively erase the book's occasional longueurs.

Johnson not only succeeds in conjuring the anomalous, hallucinatory aura of the Vietnam War as authoritatively as Stephen Wright or Francis Ford Coppola, but he also shows its fallout on his characters with harrowing emotional precision. He has written a flawed but deeply resonant novel that is bound to become one of the classic works of literature produced by that tragic and uncannily familiar war.
 
Tree of Smoke is as excessive and messy as Moby Dick. Anything further removed from the tucked-up, hospital corners school of British fiction is hard to imagine. It's a big, dirty, unmade bed of a book and, once you settle in you're in no hurry to get out.
 

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374279128, Hardcover)

Amazon Significant Seven, September 2007: Denis Johnson is one of those few great hopes of American writing, fully capable of pulling out a ground-changing masterpiece, as he did in 1992 with the now-legendary collection, Jesus' Son. Tree of Smoke showed every sign of being his "big book": 600+ pages, years in the making, with a grand subject (the Vietnam War). And in the reading it lives up to every promise. It's crowded with the desperate people, always short of salvation, who are Johnson's specialty, but despite every temptation of the Vietnam dreamscape it is relentlessly sober in its attention to on-the-ground details and the gradations of psychology. Not one of its 614 pages lacks a sentence or an observation that could set you back on your heels. This is the book Johnson fans have been waiting for--along with everybody else, whether they knew it or not. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"This is the story of William "Skip" Sands, CIA - engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong - and the disasters that befall him. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert and into a war where the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, this is a story like nothing in our literature."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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