Cjasper's Reviews > Tree of Smoke

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
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's review
Feb 08, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: my-books
Read in February, 2008

First, let me say it took me forever to read this book. I had to return it to the library, put a hold on it again, recheck it out, take a break to read a book for book group, return it, recheck it out...The entire time, my husband questioned why I was putting so much time into this book. I read The Name of the World a long time ago (when it was new?)and found it intriguing, but was not moved or greatly affected by it, and that was a much smaller investment.

So why did I persevere? For one, reading this book is immersing yourself in a world. It's complicated and confusing and disorienting, but it is a reality. Also, the whole time you're reading, you sense that something big and terrible could happen at any moment and sooner or later will happen. And though the writing is sparse, the description is lush. The dialog is simultaneously over-the-top and spot-on believable. It's like Johnson is capturing the insanity of Apocalypse Now without the benefit of visuals or actors or intonations or music.

My discomfort with the book - that the "center does not hold," I've come to believe is a purposeful and powerful aspect of the book. ("The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity," is certainly an important theme, not one that is resolved, just explored.) The timeline, the progression of events, the non-linear format, all this contributes to this feeling that it's all falling apart and some rough beast is about to be born.)

If I had all the time in the world, I would love to read the book again. I would love to take notes and explore reference and discuss themes. Alas, I'll probably just move on to my next book group book.

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