National Book Award, Fiction, 2007This is the story of William "Skip" Sands, CIA, engaged in psychological operations against the Vietcong, and the disasters that befall him. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert and into a war in which the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, this is a story like nothing in our literature.
©2007 Denis Johnson; (P)2007 Audio Renaissance, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC
"Prose of amazing power and stylishness." (Philip Roth)
"The God I want to believe in has a voice and a sense of humor like Denis Johnson's." (Jonathan Franzen)
"Once Johnson gets his hooks into you, it takes about two sentences, it's...pretty much impossible to stop reading." (The New York Times Book Review)
Johnson has captured the futile essence of hte Viet Nam conflict in this book. Sometimes a little difficult to follow, Johnson's account of the books cast left me feeling like I needed a shower. Definitely catching the darkness at the heart of the era.
What the Heck!!! I've spent the past 20+ hours listening to this book, and still don't understand
Plot starts VERY confusing and is slow to develop. When it does, you find 5-6 different characters interacting to create the story. Author does a poor job of bringing the reader/listener with him.
Revolves around CIA spies. Pre/Post Vietnam, but with no cohesiveness.
There are not that many books that leave one with a lasting impression such that they will never forget the book. For me, such books as Les Miserable, Ben Hur, Moby Dick, et al, fit this category. So, too, does Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. I can see where some might find this book a waste of time, for there are many who have not experienced such things as are described in this book and find it implausible, disjointed, or otherwise unacceptable that such things be written. As for me, this is a novel of epic proportion that wrenches the feel of a tragic time from its pages indelibly into the mind of the reader, never to be forgotten. This book is more than a "read". It is an experience, dreamlike, transcendent, and powerful. It is for those who would slake their curiosity. It takes a certain temerity to read a book such as this, an adventure for the imagination that conjures the nightmare of reality. I am a Vietnam era veteran, and I cannot recommend a book in a stronger fashion than this. Read it, feel it, and learn from it.
Not sure why there are so many vehemently negative reviews of this novel. It is an amazing work... luminous, sprawling, elegiac at times and mysterious at others. The narration by Will Patton is perfect for the tone and detail of this book, and carries us along as the story becomes more and less specific. If you are looking for a carefully-plotted thriller, this is not your book. This is an articulate, far-reaching work that touches on themes of family, war, secrets, and the lies we tell ourselves. Listen immediately.
Every so often an author unleashes a jumbled, overwritten ms that gets held up to the reading public as "deep and deliberate, a must read." Fearing they will be seen as ignorant if they speak out against its apparently manufactured merits, each reader pretends to like it more than the next. Suddenly, it has cult status and finds itself on every top ten list. Only after a year or so are people willing to admit the sad truth: the book is merely a bundle of potential, most of it undeveloped; the marketing division has earned its keep.
The Vietnam war, being the first war to be televised, has filled our culture with plenty of historical icons that define it for most of us. Denis Johnson has peeled back the surface of those images in Tree of Smoke, and forced us to look at the reality behind them, and to understand our complicity in concealing the truth beneath the layers of collective memory. Will Patton's narration is skillful and compelling.
I found this book to be both "a good read," and a profound piece of literature -- memorable and rewarding on a number of levels. That doesn't happen very often these days within the pages of the same novel. I can understand why some listeners may not feel the same about it -- it's not conventional in the sense that everything is not laid out in a straight line, at or near the surface, and all the loose ends are not tied up by a happy ending. After all, it's set in and around the Vietnam War. (Plenty of dark humor though.) A number of plots and subplots are interwoven to produce a work that is more than the sum of it's parts. The author credits the reader with the ability to think and apply their own intelligence, reflection and insight to the proceedings. My only regret is that more of Mr. Johnson's work isn't available on Audible, so I will have to buy his other books on Amazon to read them.
....until you feel like you've been covered by the literary equivalent of quicksand. I had hoped for something like "The Company" - or, at the least, an INTERESTING read with action and choice tidbits about the CIA's usually questionable actions. Instead, I could hardly discern the characters - one from another - by the author's descriptive mechanisms and even worse, by the narrator's voice. Will Patton's hushed, whispery voice, often near monotone, matched the mood of the book - depressed, weary to the bone and ready to give up the 'worthless world' and simply float like flotsam until the fates have their way with you. Granted, this may well be the way 'in country' CIA feel,by the time they've been dragged through the politics and stupidities of several countries.... but do we have to base an entire book on this? In addition, after listening to the excellent performances of many other narrators, I was continually exasperated to hear almost the same voice, with the same inflections, each time a new charater was introduced. Patton's idea of language skills seemed to be to lower the voice a bit, make it a bit more whispery -- but with nothing that even came close to sounding like the charater's accents - not Asian, not Indian, not even British. It was doubly hard to keep up with the characters when they all seemed to sound alike. The prose was nice - but in a war zone, I expected a little excitement - voices raised in screams, howls and expletives. Instead, it was: "I'm so tired I think I'll just sit here and whine for a few hundred pages." I, too, will be sure to read ALL the reviews before I make my next selection!
I picked this title from Audiuble's list of Top Ten Titles for Spy Stories. Unfortunately I had not read the other reviews before since that would have warned me. The book is no typical spy story. So far as I can see after listing to one third it is an impressionistic story of the South East Asia. In parts it reminds me a it of Somerset Maugham but without the wit. So it was no good buy for me. However, to save Audible's honor: I found "The Company" on the same top10 list and that WAS a good spy story. Win Some loose some.
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