Saturday, November 03, 2007

"Tree of Smoke"

I'm not sure how I stumbled upon this recently published novel. Denis Johnson is a well known writer in some circles but I had never read his work. It's quite a read. Twenty eight years after the release of "Apocalypse Now" this book seems to exist in a parallel universe. The pathos is more widespread, splinters through many lives and eventually resolves in anti-climax. Film and words take entirely different conduits into consciousness, but Kurtz, Willard, and multiple other players are all here in different forms, explored in the prose of Johnson.

This book requires faith. Johnson introduces characters left and right, and for the first hundred or so pages the "what have I missed feeling" had to be suppressed. Whether one page or twenty pages or fifty pages later all would become clear, or at least serve a purpose. As it evolves, getting a new character introduced on page 597 of a 614 page book is just fine. Lots of characters are lost on the way, no resolution is required, their destiny is apparent, their role played it seems. Maybe there will be spin-offs, you know Bill Jr. and James in L.A. or Minh does Mass, but that's tv trash talking.

The overall book develops from one that constantly seems on the cusp of being great, then gets to a point at which who cares if it's great or not because it's got mo, and finally to some passages that no longer seem at all forced and might be called brilliant. If the final page seems to wrap things up a little too neatly, with too much hope, I didn't care. I needed it. The book was over.

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