Excerpt from Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Tree of Smoke

A Novel

By Denis Johnson

Tree of Smoke

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To the young Asian, Sam said, "Sir, we’re hospitable as hell. But generally Philippine military aren’t served here."

"Lucky’s from Vietnam," the colonel said.

"Vietnam. You lost?"

"No, not lost," the man said.

"This guy," the colonel said, "is already a jet pilot. He’s a South Viet Nam Air Force captain."

Sam asked the young captain, "Well, is it a war over there, or what? War?—budda-budda-budda." He made his two hands into a submachine gun, jerking them in unison. "Yes? No?"

The captain turned from the American, formed the phrases in his mind, practiced them, turned back, and said, "I don’t know it’s war. A lot people are dead."

"That’ll do," the colonel agreed. "That counts."

"What you doing here?"

"I’m here for helicopters training," the captain said.

"You don’t look hardly old enough for a tricycle," Sam said. "How old are you?"

"Twenty-two years."

"I’m getting this little Slope his beer. You like San Miguel? You mind that I called you a Slope? It’s a bad habit."

"Call him Lucky," the colonel said. "The man’s buying, Lucky. What’s your poison?"

The boy frowned and deliberated inside himself mysteriously and said, "I like Lucky Lager."

"And what kind of cigarettes you smoke?" the colonel asked.

"I like the Lucky Strike," he said, and everybody laughed.

Suddenly Sam looked at young Seaman Houston as if just recognizing him and said, "Where’s my rifle?"

For a heartbeat Houston had no idea what he might be talking about. Then he said, "Shit."

"Where is it?" Sam didn’t seem terribly interested - just curious.

"Shit," Seaman Houston said. "I’ll get it."

He had to go back into the jungle. It was just as hot, and just as damp. All the same animals were making the same noises, and the situation was just as terrible, he was far from the places of his memory, and the navy still had him for two more years, and the President, the President of his country, was still dead—but the monkey was gone. Sam’s rifle lay in the brush just as he’d left it, and the monkey was nowhere. Something had carried it off.

He had expected to be made to see it again; so he was relieved to be walking back to the club without having to look at what he’d done. Yet he understood, without much alarm or unease, that he wouldn’t be spared this sight forever.

Excerpted from Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. Copyright © 2007 by Denis Johnson. Published in September 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

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