Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tree of Smoke

Johnson turns in a murky, depressing epic of the fading American Empire through the prism of a collection of lives that are warped and ruined by the Vietnam War. Conrad’s hearts of darkness, Le Carre’s claustrophobic spy themed visions of hell, Johnson’s back catalog and a considerable chunk of literature of the war (Herr’s Dispatches, Le Carre’s Honorable Schoolboy, Greene’s Quiet American, and Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers) are encompassed here. Filled with lots of elliptical anti-drama with significant events almost always being discussed in past tense this book works by its own weird logic with dozens of pages of drunken rambling discussion, a horrific battle scene, and then around page four hundred a tense novella of an assassination attempt on one of the characters. This is a shadowy world filled with disappearances, madness, death, and obsessive quests. There are moments of surreal humor (all supplied by Johnson’s unique dialogue) throughout all the eerie sadness.

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