A review of

Tree of Smoke

by Denis Johnson

Central question: What happened to the soul during Vietnam?
Format: 624 pp., cloth; Size: 9" x 6"; Price: $27.00; Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Editor: Jonathan Galassi; Print run: 100,000; Book design: Jonathan Lippincott; Typeface: Electra; Number of sequels this novel already has: two; Representative sentence: “You’re sad about the kids, sad about the animals, you don’t do the women, you don’t kill the animals, but after that you realize this is a war zone and everybody here lives in it. You don’t care whether these people live or die tomorrow, you don’t care whether you yourself live or die tomorrow, you kick the children aside, you do the women, you shoot the animals.”

Denis Johnson is best known for his slim novel-in-stories Jesus’ Son, which since its publication in 1992 has become something of a young writers’ how-to guide. What tends to get left out of most discussions of that book is that Johnson structured it loosely around the Stations of the Cross. In fact, since the publication of his first novel, in 1983, he has been preoccupied with the paradoxical notions of self-sacrifice and salvation in our modern world—but never before has Johnson’s writing been quite so haunted and harrowing as it is in his massive new novel, twenty-five years in the works.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Alec Michod

Alec Michod’s grandfather served in the Counter Intelligence Corps, a forerunner of the CIA, during World War II.

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