Tree of Smoke – Denis Johnson

smoke.gif “Though “Tree of Smoke” is hobbled by a plot that starts and stops and lurches wildly about, it’s a powerful story about the American experience in Vietnam, with unsettling echoes of the current American experience in Iraq. It is a story about bad intelligence and military screw-ups and people who have lost their way, a story like so many of Mr. Johnson’s earlier novels, about Americans in purgatory, waiting impatiently, even expectantly, for the coming apocalypse.” – Michiko Kakutani New York Times Book Review

It is hard to write about a book that has already had numerous rave reviews and is nominated for a National Book Award. I’m not sure that reading the book was an enjoyable experience for me, but I can’t deny that it is a significant work full of myth, bravado and a search for truth where there is no truth to be found. Unlike some reviewers who couldn’t put the book down, I found it hard to read – this is Vietnam after all. I do think it was worth the effort as I continue to think about the novel – particularly the characters. There are no war heroes in this book and the survivors are barely making it. Typical Denis Johnson. But, I miss the sense of hope that I felt after reading Jesus’ Son a book I heartily recommend.


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