Monday, September 03, 2007

Denis Johnson

Tree of Smoke

In the New York Times Jim Lewis reviews Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson who, for more, is a serious novelist in the tradition of Dreiser, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mailer, Jones, Bellow. As opposed to the show-offs, grave-robbers and sob-sisters of all three sexes whom the glitzy critics call "important." Johnson's ANGELS is one of the finest, most moving novels I've ever read by anybody flat-out. Find it. I doubt you'll disagree.

His new novel is Tree of Smoke. It's a Viet Nam novel. I'm waiting for the U.S. mail to deliver it. While I obviously can't comment on the book I can share with you some of Jim Lewis' comments about Denis Johnson:

"...Johnson has always been an elusive figure, one of the last of the marginal masters. He’s not a recluse, but he’s not out humping his ego, either: I’ve never read an interview with him (though I haven’t looked very hard), or seen a picture of him that wasn’t on one of his book jackets. More important, it has often seemed as if the books themselves — there have been six novels, a book of short stories and one of plays, three volumes of poetry and a collection of journalism — have bloomed spontaneously from the secret fissures that crisscross Americana: jail cells, bad neighborhoods, bus stations, cheap frame houses in the fields beyond the last streetlight. They’re full of deprived souls in monstrous situations, hapless pilgrims on their way to their next disaster. But unlike most books about the dispossessed, they’re original (how strange it feels to use that word these days, but it fits), and what’s more, deliriously beautiful — ravishing, painful; as desolate as Dostoyevsky, as passionate and terrifying as Edgar Allan Poe.

"Johnson’s standing, then, is ideal for a writer today: ample respect from his colleagues and peers, a bit of support from institutions and a large following that has nonetheless left him vaguely outside of things. “Tree of Smoke” is a massive thing and something like a masterpiece; it’s the product of an extraordinary writer in full stride. But I can’t help hoping that it leaves his status unchanged. We don’t need any more novelist-performers or novelist-pundits or novelist-narcissists, but we very badly need more novelists who can write this well. "

(I also want to urge you to read Dust Devils by James Reasoner. A fine, powerful, unique novel.)

3 comments:

Todd Mason said...

...at least five "sexes," Ed...I've dug Johnson before, and yesterday picked up the new Reasoner...and was tempted to get the new Reasoner LONGARM, as well, but was already overbudget...

Bill Crider said...

I've ordered a copy of ANGELS.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

Read Angels years ago and loved it. I'm looking forward to Tree of Smoke even though it'll take weeks to read it. I don't care I'd take months to read a Johnson novel.