Tree of Smoke

  • by Denis Johnson
  • Narrated by Will Patton
  • 23 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Fiction, 2007
This 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.


What the Critics Say

Audie Award Winner, Literary Fiction, 2008
"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)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Moby Redux

Not since Moby Dick have I encountered a novel that will engage you on a gut-wrenching visceral level of realism and then slide you gently into a meditation of metaphysical matters, and then bam! back into realism. And just as literature students debate endlessly the meaning of Ahab's obsessions and Ishmael's salvation, so too will future generations have the pleasure of deciphering Johnson's challenge: what are we to make of his tree of smoke, his birth-canal tunnels, his Catholic priests of lost faith, his monks of lost purpose, his missionaries crushed by Calvinism, his psy-op warriors on the edge where "reality becomes the dream" and who become the final "compensator"? These are not easy threads to link into a unified vision, but the Johnson is throwing down a big challenge to his reader to pay attention to these underlying concerns and not merely ride the more surface story. But that is not easy either because oh what a surface story it is-amazingly poetical, with never a lazy sentence, with dialogue that crackles, and characters who will stick in your memory. It is true that the surface plot about the Colonel's plans takes an abrupt turn and seems not to matter any more, but what does matter is where the characters are going, and we are allowed to follow all of them--each to their surprising and satisfying journey's end. No one reads Moby Dick just to learn about whaling practices, so too no one should read "Tree of Smoke" just to learn about why we were in Vietnam. What Johnson's metaphysical message is, I have not come to terms with yet, but I love the challenge he has given us. And the narrator, Will Patton, gives a reading that is poignant to the point of raising the hairs on your neck. What a ride, what a ride, what a ride.
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- MadMadeleine "Arrr! I be readin' arrrdiobooks on me aye-pod!"


What the Heck!!! I've spent the past 20+ hours listening to this book, and still don't understand
the ending

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.
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- Bryan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-04-2007
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio