Friday, January 23, 2009

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

I discovered Denis Johnson first through the movie adaptation of his novella Jesus' Son. It's one of my personal favorite movies and once I found out it was based on a book I was compelled to read it pretty quickly. I'm glad I did as it also became one of my favorite books, and I was encouraged to seek out other books by him. Since then I have read another great novella The Name of the World and now, recently, Tree of Smoke.

Tree of Smoke, unlike the first two books, is a full length novel. Whereas the Jesus' Son and The Name of the World clock in under 200 pages each this one runs to over 700. What it has in common with those other two though is the language Johnson uses, he also a quite prolific poet wih several books published and that really comes through in the writing. The descriptive scenes are fantastic with amazing settings and fabulous characters.

The book revolves around Vietnam and one central character, The Colonel, who is employed by the CIA and has his hand in almost everything happening to the other characters in the book. The Colonel's story isn't straightforward at all however as it is mostly told through all of the other characters and he is a man of myth as much as reality so, especially at the end, the reader never really knows what to believe. Speaking of the end, it DOES get a little goofy there in the last few chapters and there are parts that I can't really say I "got" (and from what I have read from some of the critics, I'm not alone there) but the very last chapter is good and everything leading up to the end is absolutely great.

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