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Tree of Smoke: A Novelby Denis Johnson
Synopses & Reviews
Winner of the National Book Award
One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
Named a Best Book of the Year by Time, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Amazon.com, Salon, Slate, The National Book Critics Circle, The Christian Science Monitor. . . .
Tree of Smoke is the story of William "Skip" Sands, CIA--engaged in Pschological Operations against the Vietcong--and the disasters that befall him. It 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 the words of Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, Tree of Smoke is "bound to become one of the classic works of literature produced by that tragic and uncannily familiar war."
Denis Johnson is the author of five novels, a collection of poetry and one book of reportage. He is the recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and a Whiting Writer's Award, among many other honors for his work. He lives in northern Idaho. Winner of the National Book Award
A Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary AwardOne of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the YearA Time Magazine Top 10 of the Year
A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year
A Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
A Chicago Tribune Favorite Book of the Year
A Seattle Times Favorite Book of the Year
A Library Journal Best Book of the Year
This is the story of Skip Sands—spy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong—and 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.
Also available on CD as an unabridged audiobook. Please email email@example.com for more information. "[A] deeply resonant novel that is bound to become one of the classic works of literature produced by that tragic and uncannily familiar war."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times "Denis Johnson's wildly ambitious new novel, Tree of Smoke, reads like a whacked-out, hallucinogenic variation on such whacked-out, hallucinogenic Vietnam classics as Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Michael Herr's Dispatches, Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers and Stephen Wright's Meditations in Green. It features a central character who comes to see himself as a combination of the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and another who comes across as a latter-day version of Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. What's amazing is that Mr. Johnson somehow manages to take these derivative elements and turn them into something highly original—and potent . . . 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 . . . Mr. 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 . . . [A] deeply resonant novel that is bound to become one of the classic works of literature produced by that tragic and uncannily familiar war."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times"Good morning and please listen to me: Denis Johnson is a true American artist, and Tree of Smoke is a tremendous book, a strange entertainment, very long but very fast, a great whirly ride that starts out sad and gets sadder and sadder, loops unpredictably out and around, and then lurches down so suddenly at the very end that it will make your stomach flop . . . Tree of Smoke is a soulful book, even a numinous one . . . and it ought to secure Johnson's status as a revelator for this still new century . . . I spent a long time reading Tree of Smoke, and as I neared the end I found myself wishing it were longer."—Jim Lewis, The New York Times
"Tree of Smoke is an ambitious, long, dense, daunting novel sited at the heart of a great American evil, the Vietnam War . . . Like the war itself, Tree of Smoke delivers an intense experience of loss, shame, futility, confusion . . . Denis Johnson is a formidable prose writer, and his book is composed in a plain, straightforward, efficient style. Understatement rules The physical experiences of daily life in tropical Asia is kept fresh, page to page. The dialogue is convincing, neatly adapted to the particularities of the widely different characters. The moments of black comedy that can emerge even amid the worst miseries of war are deftly captured . . . Tree of Smoke joins the corporal’s guard of truly significant novels about the Vietnam War—works such as The Quiet American, Going After Cacciato, Dog Soldiers, The Things They Carried, Meditations in Green . . . Denis Johnson has created an absorbing, provocative work of art."—Norman Rush, The New York Review of Books
"For a reader with stamina, the rewards come steadily. Johnson is a fine stylist of the world of soulful disaster. The phrase 'tree of smoke,' as he presents it, is the literal translation from the Hebrew of the pillar in Exodus. This time—in these pages—that pillar of smoke leaves us to a dark, dark vision of a promised land."—Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered"To write a fat novel about Vietnam nearly 35 years after it ended is an act of literary bravado. To do so as brilliantly as Denis Johnson has in Tree of Smoke is positively a miracle . . . This novel makes large demands on the reader: to submit to its length, to its disorienting language and structure, to the elusive and shattering experience of its characters, and finally to its sheer ambition to be definitive for the Vietnam generation. It is a presumptuous book, in other words, and you may resist for the first several hundred pages. But it will grab you eventually, and get inside your head like the war it is describing—mystifying, horrifying, mesmerizing. Johnson, a poet, ex-junkie and adventure journalist, has written a book that by the end wraps around you as tightly as a jungle snake . . . As a serious war novel, Tree of Smoke is implicitly a story about all wars. And a reader cannot travel this journey without thinking about America’s current war in Iraq."—David Ignatius, The Washington Post Book World (cover review)
"Denis Johnson's apocalyptic, doom-and-grace ridden Vietnam novel has a lot of fire in its belly . . . if Johnson has a signature theme throughout his work, it's a kind of quasi-mystical redemption on the other side of the abyss; his gorgeous prose and willingness to go deep have led the way through the scarily lightless corridors of his fiction."—Gail Caldwall, The Boston Globe
"Tree of Smoke will surely be hailed as a great novel of the Vietnam War, which it is—but more than that it's a caterwauling anthem about American jitters, American doubt and American folly, an oblique and unsettling account of Americans growing Quiet and Ugly in the second half of the 20th century . . . A novel that sets you spinning and leaves you reeling . . . Tree of Smoke is as forceful and disturbing as a Robert Rauschenberg combine: There's the same disjunctive composition, stark unfinished texture, hints of bone and earth and broken language, and suggestions of both psychological and physical violence . . . Tree of Smoke makes no explicit argument against containment or preemptive war or liberal interventionism. But as a fictional account of how American military involvement abroad saps its people, its institutions, its heart—a work of moral criticism in the form a novel—it's more convincing than most arguments, and more urgently needed."—Matt Weiland, The New York Observer
"Taking place in Southeast Asian—Vietnam mostly—during the period from 1963 to 1970, Tree of Smoke is a massive patchwork of people and stories that overlap and drift apart . . . It's beautiful writing: With Johnson, the writing is always beautiful."—David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times"'Once upon a time there was a war.' This statement comes late in Denis Johnson's tour de force of a novel, Tree of Smoke, and indicates much of the misguided storybook romanticism at the heart of many world conflicts . . . In an opening scene that symbolizes much of the heartbreak summoned in the novel, Bill Houston shoots a monkey and then regrets the utter pointlessness of his deed. It is a tiny moment involving a relatively minor character, but it has significant reverberations throughout the work . . . Tree of Smoke is a distinctly literary type of spy novel and political thriller, owing more to John le Carré and the Bible (from which it draws its name) than to Ian Fleming and 'The Bourne Identity.'Plenty of space is afforded to rumination and soul-searching, but Johnson is smart enough to recognize that something like the Tet Offensive can judiciously move along the pace: There is a time to dwell on the mythology of a place and then a time to hit the deck . . . There is so much going on in Tree of Smoke, and so many levels of symbolism, that it is hard to do the story justice here . . . It will be interesting to see how readers respond to Johnson's novel. Stylistically, it ranges from Hemingwayesque straightforward simplicity to Proustian narrative complexity and descriptive splendor. Johnson brings his talents as a poet to bear, especially when describing the jungles and cities of Asia."—David Hellman, San Francisco Chronicle "In Tree of Smoke, the new novel from the gifted Denis Johnson, a young CIA operative goes to Vietnam as part of his family legacy, where he's misled, exposed and betrayed into having an affair with the wife of a missionary. The book's saga begins on the day of Kennedy's assassination, as experienced in the Far East . . . [Johnson] has an eye for detail and writes about an alcoholic blackout and its shameful aftermath as Dostoyevsky wrote about compulsive crime. Johnson is an author who has captured the zeitgeist of American experience as surely as Twain, Hemingway or Ellison. As Hemingway's children grew up in the shadow of World War I, what survived in America was the belief in the honorable intentions of our country. Johnson’s generation was not cut the same break. For the post-Woodstock, post-punk age, consciousness changes; everything believed in was swept off the stage or shot in the street. Johnson gets this on a visceral level. As the generation before him had to write about the excitement of expanding consciousness, Johnson’s has had to contend with the aftermath of that trip. Hunter Thompson began to diagnose this malaise. Johnson's fiction is all about what comes next. It begins with the shock of loss and post-traumatic stress. And in Tree of Smoke, he makes you believe all over again."—Andrew Hubner, New York Post"The novel is about the Vietnam War and its legacy of ruined bodies and even more wrecked minds, and it surely represents a huge investment on Mr. Johnson's part of blood, sweat, and years. The book is full of incident and rat-a-tat dialogue, and is peopled by undercover operatives; soldiers in action; agents who might be double agents; desperate aid workers, and friends, family, and lovers who often act as if they are nothing of the sort. There is movie potential here, but a film would never be able to capture the richness of interior life that is Mr. Johnson's greatest achievement . . . The point of view in Tree of Smoke is an effective hybrid of third-person omniscient and third-person limited; each section provides the convincingly complex thoughts of only one person, but this focal character keeps shifting, sometimes within a page, and more than a handful of people get a substantial portion of the book. Often we badly want to know what someone else is thinking, but Mr. Johnson either denies us entirely or elegantly builds tension by withholding this knowledge . . . Mr. Johnson’s narrative of an improbably ambitious mission guided by an increasingly embattles raison d’tre will be minded for comment on today’s war in Iraq. But at bottom this is not a political novel. War mat be 90% myth, but it is 100% real to those it touches and breaks, and their lives are at the vivid center of Mr. Johnson’s canvas . . . With its humane depiction of the most private battles within battles, Tree of Smoke ought to take its place among the great American novels of any war."—Evan Hughes, The New York Sun "Brilliant . . . [Tree of Smoke] opens a window onto a world of mystery, war and intrigue whose importance in the (usually) unwritten history of our republic can't be denied . . . A full and heart-shaking narrative of our war—including much blood of soldiers (ours and theirs), destruction, rape and pillage—against the Asian communists and the people of the region . . . Johnson is a fine stylist of the world of soulful disaster, and his kind of work doesn’t usually jibe well with a long, involved narrative . . . But this time he merges his tightly tuned sense of language with the needs of an extended and complicated story . . . When it comes to creating the central metaphor of the book, from which the novel gains its title, it is surpassing in its brilliance. Tree of smoke—Sands finds the image in a set of file cards given to him for cataloging by his CIA uncle. There's a reference to it in the Bible’s Song of Solomon. And in Exodus. And an apocalyptic version of it in Joel . . . And in this extraordinary novel, which itself becomes a version of the biblical sign of beckoning disaster."—Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune"In the more hopeful days of the Iraq war, some newly arrived U.S. solider probably looked up to a desert sky guarded by American Blackhawk helicopters and jets and had the same reassuring thoughts as Skips, Sands, on the CIA's trainee first night of duty in Vietnam in Denis Johnson’s epic, wrenching novel, Tree of Smoke . . . The immensely talented Johnson (Jesus's Son, Resuscitation of a Dead Man) delivers a beautifully layered, insightful and visceral montage of stories that examines the Vietnam War experience from multiple points of view . . . One gets the sense that everyone in the long, colorful cast of characters in Tree of Smoke is on a Danteesque excursion through a hell of misguided intentions."—Tyron Beason, The Seattle Times
"Long, rich, dazzling, Tree of Smoke should finally establish him among the most profound and truly humane American novelists extant . . . People and places, complete with sounds, smells and weather, are rendered throughout with an extraordinary empathy and vividness. Tree of Smoke is a great read, an amazing achievement."—James Leigh, The San Diego Union-Tribune
"In 'Nam,' a 1981 oral history of the Vietnam War, a former prisoner of war recalled his 'mental exercises' during years of captivity: he promoted himself to four-star general and invaded Hanoi. He relived his past and imagined the future, designing the dream house he intended to build after the war. He computed materials and costs—board feet of lumber, lengths of tubing and wiring, fixtures and hardware. And then he built the house in real time in his head. If he'd imagined a book about the war, the manipulation and miscalculation that led us into it, the search-and-destroy savagery of combat and America’s post-World War II loss of innocence and moral authority, he could not have done better than Denis Johnson’s novel Tree of Smoke . . . Tree of Smoke is vintage Johnson, combining the grim, gritty realism of Angels, the everyday hallucinatory absurdity of Jesus’ Son, and the post-apocalypse invention of Fiskadaro. He has a fine ear for American speech, captured brilliantly in James Houston's shift from the demented patois of his socially malformed family to the war zone slang of the long-range patrol. And Johnson can mold language to theme like a sculptor shaping clay . . . Tree of Smoke is a biblical image for the conflagration of war, and in Johnson's novel it serves as a thematic link between indiscriminate carpet bombing, the Cold War fear of mutual assured destruction, and the code name for an ill-conceived CIA pacification plan. And, in poignant counterpoint, the autumn smoke of dead leaves burning in Skip's boyhood Kansas. But Skip is not in Kansas anymore."—Vernon Peterson, The Oregonian (Portland)
"For a novel that’s supposed to be about military intelligence, Denis Johnson's crucial new Tree of Smoke sure is populated by a bunch of clueless characters. And yet his epic tale, some 600 pages that span two decades, isn't so much about getting facts or information straight as it is about learning to make one's way in a world that has stopped making sense. Set largely during the Vietnam War and mostly in Southeast Asia, Johnson's bracing, zigzagging narrative is ultimately a story about how to learn to see in the dark . . . Much like Jesus' Son, Johnson's celebrated 1992 collection of short stories, Tree of Smoke is hardly the stuff of uplift. In passage after passage, however, Johnson’s writing is sublime: His urgent, visceral prose conveys the humanity at the heart of even the most messed-up situations, often redeeming that humanity in the process . . . It might strike some as odd, even counterintuitive, as one reviewer has suggested, that Johnson would write a book about Vietnam now. Tree of Smoke, though, speaks not just to the United States' misguided participation in that war but also to the psychology of war in general. It couldn't be timelier given the debacle in Iraq."—Bill Friskics-Warren, The Tennessean"One does not read Johnson's fiction for narrative clarity—the joy of this book lies in its meandering and tangents, in its lacerating details and hallucinatory wonder, its unexpected twists and dead ends, its richness, strangeness, shadows and sudden, devastating beauty . . . Tree of Smoke should be considered the literary bible of the Vietnam War—and perhaps the bible of war itself."—Nathan Ihara, LA Weekly "A redefinition of [Vietnam literature] done in a poetic style that captures the beauty of the landscape of Southeast Asia, as well as the moral confusion of the Westerners trapped in the war's spell . . . Tree of Smoke can't be fully explored here in its many layered shape of symbols and images, but as a piece of pure writing its is one of the year's best in fiction. Johnson's powers of observation and care for creating scenes of beauty and horror are at their peak."—Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"This new novel, Tree of Smoke, a 614-page multigenerational, transnational, braided morality saga about Westerners in Southeast Asia and the Southeast Asians who have to figure out how to stay alive around them, is something else entirely. It's a book that needs every bit of its space to do what it wants to do. Johnson has made himself into a different kind of writer in order to do this book—that's the first thing that needs to be said. The second is that he's made himself into a better writer. He didn’t owe anyone a long, complex, conventionally satisfying but formally daring masterpiece of an American novel, but he produced one anyway . . . It takes a while to get into Tree of Smoke. Not because it's slow going but because it's too tempting to stop and read over again the opening scene of a young Navy crewman half-accidentally shooting to death a small monkey in the Philippine jungle . . . Johnson has written his War and Peace . . . You can't exactly over-read this book. Johnson has put it all out there, as we say. He’s written a novel that, with its own internal referencing of stories he's written before, more or less begs to be read as a summation and validation of his fiction to this point, and he's written one that wears its high-modernist sense of the novel’s task unfashionably high on its sleeve. Maybe it's the case that Johnson himself felt an urge to make the kind of outsize novelistic statement no one could mistake for minor. If so, he has not been made to look foolish by the ambition."—John Jeremiah Sullivan, Harper’s Magazine
"Tree of Smoke is the Denis Johnson novel which we've been waiting for. The Vietnam War continues to haunt us in countless ways, and Tree of Smoke demonstrates precisely why that is. Set mainly in southeast Asia, with a few stateside chapters thrown in, the novel takes place between 1963 and 1983. You can say it's about the Vietnam War, but that would be an oversimplification. Johnson's more interested in what changed at home as a result of that war. It's a novel about America, and in many ways it’s a novel about American today . . . I'm not sure there's been a better Vietnam novel since William Eastlake's The Bamboo Bed. Honestly, I can't be sure that there’s been a better American novel published in the past 10 years. Johnson understands the conflicts at the heart of the American psyche, and in Tree of Smoke he delivers the sort of historical novel that not only shows us where we've been but also shines a light on where we're going. It is a masterpiece."—Andrew Ervin, The Miami Herald "Tree of Smoke, a tortuous epic of American counterinsurgency in Asia, presents an array of characters bearing familiar Johnsonian auras of desperation, threat, and abjection."—James Gibbons, Bookforum"Tree of Smoke is a Vietnam War novel almost with peer, in which 'the abyss is alive' across seven years and more than 600 pages. Denis Johnson—best known for the short stories in Jesus’ Son, and the reporting in Seek: Reports from the Edges of American and Beyond—pays homage to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. His superb, disorienting book winds up not just equaling them, but betting everything written about Vietnam . . . The fierce, lucid detachment of Tree of Smoke would make Soren Kierkegaard proud. Johnson, a poet and novelist who lives in Northern Idaho, has written the best work of his career, an existential tour de force."—John Repp, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)"Denis Johnson's seventh novel is his masterpiece and perhaps one of the most powerful novels published in the last several years. As in his other works but here on a larger scale, his characters negotiate a dark, violent world in search of meaning, some kind of salvation. And Johnson takes us with them into the world’s pain and these soul's anguish in a narrative that carries is along, turning the pages, anxious to see where the story leads . . . Johnson has published poetry and reportage, and he puts both skills to use in his novels . . . Johnson's prose continually wrings emotions out of readers, drawing us into troubled lives as they experience the mystery of suffering in the world. The book includes many poetic turns, for example, 'He could hear also the pulse snickering in the heat of his flesh, and the creak of sweat in his ears.' The action is marked by unpredictable turns, yet it follows an arc that fills out the story's themes. Those themes include Johnson's major one of the possibilities of grace amid inexplicable suffering. He dissects America and the Vietnam experience, showing it through a variety of perspectives—soldiers, spies, medical volunteers and the Vietnamese themselves. It is a war that 'failed to give any romances outside of hellish myths.' Violence erupts amid beauty and tenderness. Throughout the book, a cloud of hopelessness hovers over small acts of humanity . . . Tree of Smoke has resonances of Heart of Darkness and Catch-22, and Johnson draws on the influences of Graham Greene and Robert Stone. The ending has the grit and grace, the apocalyptic universalism of a Flannery O'Connor story. Nevertheless, Johnson's voice is unique in fiction. No one writes like he does. He is that rare artist who seeks not just to entertain or convince but to wrong revelation out of the story."—Gordon Houser, The Wichita Eagle
"Smoke is damn impressive, a layered, rich, sweaty accomplishment of massive proportions, a novel whose first three pages are nothing short of perfect."—Whitney Pastorek, Entertainment Weekly
"This major Vietnam novel depicts the era's distinctive psychedelic brutality, the ineptitude of the U.S. military effort, and the otherworldly theater of the 'intelligence' operations surrounding the politics of the war. Skip Sands is starting out in the hazy world of the CIA under the tutelage of his uncle, Col. F.X. Sands, a veteran of World War II and many years of mercenary covert actions. They are involved in an assassination in the Philippines, where the novel begins in November 1963, and then move on to Vietnam. There, the Colonel sets up an undercover situation for Skip. Whether the Colonel is a rogue agent gone over the edge is open to question. Down at the bottom of the command chain are the brothers Houston, Bill Jr. and James, members of the alcoholic, sociopathic underclass of rural and Bible Belt America last seen in Johnson's Angels. It is these characters with whom the author seems truly in touch. Moving chronologically, the novel proceeds into the late Sixties, when the war seems not so much lost as running down on the political, military, and cultural energy powering it earlier. Ugly and fascinating, with many shattering scenes, this long work may seem familiar to fans of Apocalypse Now but is nevertheless gripping. Recommended for all fiction collections."—Library Journal
"Colonel Francis F. X. Sands' wartime exploits made himsomething ofa legend. He flew as a mercenary for the Republic of China Air Force unitknown asthe Flying Tigers, shooting down Japanese planes. Shot down himself by the Japanese, he suffered sickness, beatings, torture, and starvation before escaping from a prison camp in Burma. He rose to the rank of colonel during World War II and joined the CIA in the 1950s, his background in Southeast Asia an asset as the U.S. replaced France in the Vietnamese war against communism. Enter Skip Sands, the colonel's nephew, ayoung intelligence officer currently a clerk in charge of cataloging his uncle's three footlockers full ofthousands ofindex cards, 'almost none of them comprehensible.' The colonel enlists Skip in a secret operation involving a double, an agent ready to betray the Vietcong. Skip, an earnest patriot, neverthelessfinds himself deep in the unauthorized world of renegade psychological ops, off the grid and outside the chain of command, an ethical quagmire where almost anything goes, where he encounters conflicts of loyalty between his family, his country, and his religion. Johnson is a gifted writer with a knack for erudite and colorful dialogue, and his sense of time and place is visceral and evocative.With this worthy addition to Vietnam literature, he confidently joins the ranks of Tim O'Brien, Larry Heinemann, and Michael Herr."—Ben Segedin, Booklist
"If this novel [is] . . . about Skip Sands, it's also about his uncle, a legendary CIA operative; Kathy Jones, a widowed, saintly Canadian nurse; Trung, a North Vietnamese spy; and the Houston brothers, Bill and James, misguided GIs who haunt the story's periphery. And it's also about Sgt. Jimmy Storm, whose existence seems to be one long vision quest . . . the real point is the possibility of grace in a world of total mystery and inexplicable suffering. In Johnson's honest world, no one story dominates. For all the story lines, the structure couldn't be simpler: each year, from 1963 (the book opens in the Philippines: 'Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed') to 1970, gets its own part, followed by a coda set in 1983. Readers familiar with the Vietnam War will recognize its arc—the Tet offensive. . .the deaths of Martin Luther King and RFK; the fall of Saigon, swift and seemingly foreordained. Skip is a CIA recruit working under his uncle, Francis X. Sands, known as the Colonel. Skip is mostly in the dark, awaiting direction, living under an alias and falling in love with Kathy while the Colonel deals in double agents, Bushmills whiskey and folk history. He's a soldier-scholar pursuing theories of how to purify an information stream; he bloviates in gusts of sincerity and blasphemy, all of it charming. A large cast of characters, some colorful, some vaguely chalked, surround this triad . . . Given the covert nature of much of the goings-on, perhaps it is necessary that characters become blurred. 'We're on the cutting edge of reality itself,' says Storm. 'Right where it turns into a dream.' Is this our last Vietnam novel? One has to wonder. What serious writer, after tuning in to Johnson's terrifying, dissonant opera, can return with a fresh ear? The work of many past chroniclers—Graham Greene, Tim O'Brien, the filmmakers Coppola, Cimino and Kubrick, all of whom have contributed to our cultural 'understanding' of the war—is both evoked and consumed in the fiery heat of Johnson's story. In the novel's coda, Storm, a war cliché now way gone and deep in the Malaysian jungle near Thailand, attends preparations for a village's sacrificial bonfire (consisting of personal items smashed and axed by their owners) and offers himself as 'compensation, baby.' When the book ends, in a heartbreaking soliloquy from Kathy (fittingly, a Canadian) on the occasion of a war orphan benefit in a Minneapolis Radisson, you feel that America's Vietnam experience has been brought to a closure that's as good as we'll ever get."—Publishers Weekly
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. That's me.This is the story of Skip Sands--spy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong--and 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 Johnson's first full-length novel in nine years, and his most gripping, beautiful, and powerful work to date.Tree of Smoke is the 2007 National Book Award Winner for Fiction.
The lives of Skip Sands, a spy-in-training engaged in psychological operations against the Vietcong, and brothers Bill and James Houston, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war, intertwine in a compelling novel of America during the Vietnam War. Winner of the National Book Award. Reprint. 150,000 first printing.
About the Author
Denis Johnson is the author of seven works of fiction, three collections of poetry, and one book of reportage. He is the recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and a Whiting Writers' Award, among many other honors for his work.
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