Ssssmokin! A review

book/daddy's brief but excited review of Denis Johnson's new novel, Tree of Smoke, appears in the September issue of Men's Vogue, now on newstands. But it's not available online, so you'll have to read it on the jump.

In 2006, The New York Times included Denis Johnson's superb 1992 story collection, Jesus' Son, in a round-up of the best American fiction of the last 25 years. The book also made him a favorite of those who like reading about stoners and petty thieves.

But Johnson pushed past Bukowski's street angels long ago; now he's deep into Robert Stone territory. His latest, Tree of Smoke, is a brilliant pillar of fire. An epic novel of bungled espionage and small mercies in Vietnam, it is Johnson's 643-page ticket out of cult status. The story cross-cuts between two pairs of characters from 1963 to 1983: The Houston brothers drop out and join the military, while a duo of spooks--the legendary, whiskey-swilling Colonel Sands and his nephew Skip--get neck-deep into delusional derring-do. It doesn't really matter that the Houstons and the Sandses never connect; they parallel each other until a rogue operation that the wily colonel concocts has Skip doing business with a Vietcong double agent.

Betrayals, confusions, hit jobs: We know these jungles from Graham Greene and Apocalypse Now. But Tree of Smoke also steps (too often, perhaps) into writer Antonin Artaud's hallucinogenic travels. This is the novelist as psy ops agent, and the novel as quest for redemption: One operative even boasts to Skip that he works -- much like Johnson's haunting, tragic and humane novel -- on the edge of reality, "Right where it turns into a dream."

August 26, 2007 6:18 PM |



Best of the Vault


Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...


Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on August 26, 2007 6:18 PM.

"Our two main weapons are fear, surprise and -- Our THREE main weapons are ..." was the previous entry in this blog.

Oh, THOSE barbarian hordes is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.