Jaron's Reviews > Tree of Smoke

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
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's review
Jun 19, 12

Read from June 06 to 20, 2012

This is the second 500+ page novel I've read about the Vietnam War this year, so I feel obligated to start out this review by saying: If you are interested in reading a massive novel about Vietnam, please, read Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes instead.

I started out thinking that I'd found another favorite author, that I'd want to read everything Denis Johnson has ever written by the time I finished. After all, this book won the National Book Award, right? The prose was good, the characters seemed interesting enough. I was smitten by the promise of lots of intertwining lives and plot threads.

But then ... nothing much happened. There were major POV issues. There were too many characters that talked in the same overwrought, crazy manner. Too many sentences seemed to be put together in the wrong order simply to make them sound more original, or more literary or something. Then, around page 300, it seemed like he decided to make a list of 'top-ten disturbing things that happened in Vietnam' and be sure to include at least one incident of each.

If I could go back and do it all over again, I would quit this book around page 100, when I had my first inkling that the story wasn't going anywhere. I have always told myself that I wouldn't give a book one star, that I would quit reading any one-star book without reviewing or finishing it. But I kept holding out hope that something would happen, that there would be some kind of massive rendezvous of all of these characters at some point that would make it worth it. Or, at the very least some kind of cathartic moment at the end that would make me feel something. Even if that something was just, "I'm glad I hung in there and finished this one."

I should have trusted my instincts at page 100.

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