Andrew's Reviews > Tree of Smoke

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
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's review
Dec 02, 2008

it was amazing

Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke is the American literary novel at its best: absorbing, epic, challenging, meditative, marvelously poetic from one sentence to the next. To label this labyrinthine, relentless tale of an infantryman, sailor, CIA spook, ARVN officer, Vietcong double agent, and others a "Vietnam novel" seems to do it it a disservice. And yet, that's what it is: a devastating journey through the Vietnam War, to all the dark crevices of the American experience and the human condition. Johnson's masculine, despairing prose, so sensitive to tangible and inner detail, recalls Cormac McCarthy and, yes, Hemingway. It's Johnson's knack for the madness, the sheer uncanniness, of war--the way life's banalities take on a surreal quality and order leaches away--that grabs a hold of you and doesn't let go. Tree of Smoke's dense, aimless narrative doesn't lead to any recognizable country, and readers seeking a more conventional thriller or war novel should look elsewhere. This is literature as bold exploration of our private fears and our collective heart of darkness. Just a stunning novel.
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