I am not reviewing this book, as I consider myself to be utterly unqualified and am not sufficiently infatuated with my own sense of taste. I liked itI am not reviewing this book, as I consider myself to be utterly unqualified and am not sufficiently infatuated with my own sense of taste. I liked it. A lot. Hence the stars. There.
What I'm really delighting in right now, however, is how thoroughly unqualified B.R. Myers proved himself to be as well. His Atlantic Monthly review (found at: my link text) of "Tree of Smoke" is a display of such blind zealotry that I can't decide between crying out for him to be publicly horsewhipped and merely laughing my ass off. But I am struggling to be humane.
Being a critic, Mr. Myers is not troubled by such concerns. He is unremittingly cruel, and clearly shocked at the rest of the world's (and most especially, as will be seen, Philip Roth's) refusal to follow suit. His complaints about Johnson's prose amount to little more than petulant squealing against impressionism in literature, with every example given being backed up either by his glaring misinterpretations of the text, or simply not at all. Because it's so obvious, you see. Yes.
His status as one who has long ago vanished up his own asshole is most glaringly confirmed in his declarations concerning what people can and can not feel. For the sake of space I'll ignore his charming notion that eighteen-year-old soldiers do not behave irrationally "during a sudden and intense firefight" (and not just "a", Mr. Myers, but the lad's very first), or address the questionable ethics behind his constant ignoring of any sort of context. (I'm in danger of committing some of his crimes here, I know--please be patient.) Myers apparently considers the limiting of variety in human experience a proof of how very far-reaching is his wisdom in all things literary. From the aforementioned implication as to the inability of American youths to have strayed beyond a certain range of behavior during their time in tropical Vietnam, to the impossibility of deranged persons being anything other than blind to all of human nature--with a gem somewhere in the middle as to every living male's being incapable of describing their respective genitalia in terms not centered around massiveness--it was difficult to resist the notion that, if pressed, Myers could count off the differences that are manifested in humanity with the aid of his digits, and without having to take off more than one of his oxfords.
And woe unto the unsuspecting hack who should dare to claim otherwise! And further woe unto the nation that supports such hackdom, for that nation shall summon forth no other than George W. Bush to punish it for such despicable ignorance! That's right, my friends: G-dub himself is our karmic retribution for our abominable literary taste! I quote, because it's just too lovely to avoid:
"It would be foolish to demand another Tolstoy, but shouldn’t we expect someone writing about the Vietnam War to have more sense and eloquence than the politicians who prosecuted it?
Those two qualities are linked. There can be no deep thought without the proper use of words, as our current president never fails to demonstrate. This is why it is dangerous to hold up bad English as good[punctuation missing]and why Philip Roth should know better than to announce that Johnson writes 'prose of amazing power and stylishness.' There are people who will take that seriously...
The 'application of word to thing' has been rotting for some time now, and in the very terms described. The social and political consequences are all around us. Literati who contribute to the rot[punctuation missing]whether to preserve a writer’s reputation, to stimulate the book market, or simply to go with the flow[punctuation missing]have no right to complain about incoherent government."
I shit you not. The man's nuts, a total whack-job. He shames barrels of monkeys.
In truth, I can find no more convincing praise for Denis Johnson's fine work than the spastic ravings of such a one as B.R. Myers; had I come across this review beforehand, I would have scooped up "Tree of Smoke" immediately and filled myself up with the poetry and humanity the novel is so rich with, if for no other reason than to make of myself one more harbinger of that inept critic's personal Apocalypse. At this late date, all I can do is embrace my role as a "Tree of Smoke" supporter, and from this become the catalyst for every instance of political misfortune and artistic dissolution that Myers can imagine.
This I do unabashedly and with great joy.
[note: Lest I be accused of pettiness, I should state that I more than suspect the points of missing punctuation that run rampantly through his review to be a fault related to the website. They are, unfortunately, still there, and I've no paper copy available to aid me in their correction. They're probably hyphens.]...more