Once upon a time there was a war . . . and a young American who thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally as simply the Fucking American. Thats me.
This is the story of Skip Sandsspy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcongand the disasters that befall him thanks to his famous uncle, a war hero known in intelligence circles simply as the Colonel. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war in which the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, and its gritty, sympathetic portraits of men and women desperate for an end to their loneliness, whether in sex or death or by the grace of God, this is a story like nothing in our literature.
Tree of Smoke is Denis Johnsons first full-length novel in nine years, and his most gripping, beautiful, and powerful work to date.
Tree of Smoke
Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed. Seaman Houston and the other two recruits slept while the first reports traveled around the world. There was one small nightspot on the island, a dilapidated club with big revolving fans in the ceiling and one bar and one pinball game; the two marines who ran the club had come by to wake them up and tell them what had happened to the President. The two marines sat with the three sailors on the bunks in the Quonset hut for transient enlisted men, watching the air conditioner drip water into a coffee can and drinking beer. The Armed Forces Network from Subic Bay stayed on through the night, broadcasting bulletins about the unfathomable murder.
Now it was late in the morning, and Seaman Apprentice William Houston, Jr., began feeling sober again as he stalked the jungle of Grande Island carrying a borrowed .22-caliber rifle. There were supposed to be some wild boars roaming this island military resort, ...
Does it sound relentless? At moments, this giant novel is exactly that; and certainly, it's supposed to be. But the catch is that Johnson's often unwieldy, rant-filled dialogue and frenetic plotline is checkered with great, poetic moments of clarity as his characters search for simple grace. The chugging train of his story stops every so often at the tug of a heartstring or simply because of the way the light is falling, and a great feeling of relief washes the whole grimy thing clean. Then the whistle blows, and the train gets going, gaining speed, and the reader's struggling to stay on. The thing is, if you do, if you can stay on, the rewards are rich, staggering, and rare.
(Reviewed by Lucia Silva).
Full Review (829 words).
Most of Denis Johnson's fans discovered him through his 1992 collection of short fiction, Jesus' Son. His trademark down & dirty style, paired with slim, grim stories of drug-addled 70's drifters drew critical acclaim, a movie deal, and a cult following. But before all that came four novels and at least two collections of poetry, the first published in 1969 while Johnson was studying with Raymond Carver at The University of Iowa. The pervasive themes of Denis Johnson's work are all there in his poems: loneliness, ...
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Set in the haunting landscape of eastern Australia, this is a stunningly accomplished debut novel about the inescapable past: the ineffable ties of family, the wars fought by fathers and sons, and what goes unsaid.
A searing coming-of-age story and a novel for our timesone of the most powerful, visceral portraits of the horror, camaraderie, and absurdity of war in modern fiction.
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