Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Denis Johnson: Tree of Smoke

I love Denis Johnson. A million years ago I read "Already Dead" and although I can't remember what it was about or why I liked it, I am sure it is one of my favorite books. I promptly read everything I could find by Denis Johnson and was totally pumped to see that he had a new book out. So pumped that I bought a used copy of the hardback version, since I couldn't even wait for it to come out in paperback. I suggest that everyone else wait for the paperback, or borrow my copy.

Basically, this is a very complicated book about some dudes in the CIA and their family, some American dudes in the Army and their family, and some dudes in Vietnam and their family. The plot weaves around the men's (and one woman's, but not her families') lives and experience in the Philippines, the US, and Vietnam. It's often confusing, though not overly so, and sometimes dramatic. Unfortunately, some of the dramatic ploys are used two or more times, so they lose some of their excitement: Is one dude going to kill another dude? The suspense is killing me! Oh wait, it killed me the first time, but this time... not so much. Also, there is a lot of talk of double agents, but the breakdown of this particular mystery comes way too late in the book- the plot building didn't really need to take 400 pages. Six hundred pages of historical/war fiction is a lot.

I was so excited about this book. I think for a non-Denis Johnson book, it would have been excellent. For a Denis Johnson book, I was disappointed. On the other hand, if it wasn't a Denis Johnson book, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Although this blog would make it seem otherwise, I *do* read about other things besides war. And some of the gritty details Johnson lays out about Vietnam and the life of a psy-Ops operator are worth the trouble.


Dale said...

I think I liked this book much better than you did, but it was the first book I've read by Johnson. If the others are better, I'll have to go look for them.