So we reach the end of my Contemporary American Novel class today. We’ve been discussing Citrus County by John Brandon this week, and Prof. McDuffie is just not satisfied. He wants to get further into the text. So he asks, “How many books do we have left? Two?” No. Three more. No Country for Old Men, Lean on Pete, and Tree of Smoke. He writhes a bit in his seat and looks at me. “Hmm… Tree of Smoke is a long book. How many people besides Maggie have read Tree of Smoke?” Nobody has.
Now, if you recall, I hate Tree of Smoke. I don’t think I’ve read a book that I hate as much as I hated Tree of Smoke. If this were the only book that Denis Johnson ever wrote, I would not feel terribly sad burning it and blotting his name from the history of literature (no, not literature, just books). I know that Johnson is supposed to be a brilliant writer, and I know that my roommate loved Jesus’ Son, so I will give that one a shot over break, but if Tree of Smoke were it, I would be left seriously questioning the fate of American literature.
So here’s our revised class plan. We’re going to come back from Thanksgiving break and finish discussing Citrus County. Then, we’ll dive into our last McCarthy book, No Country for Old Men. We will finish the semester with Lean On Pete.
And somewhere in the midst of this, I get to have a 15 minute rant on how I feel about Tree of Smoke. And I get extra credit for reading it.
I have been outspoken about my intense hatred for this book since the beginning of the semester, and it is finally paying off. I have just spared a dozen people from the torture of Tree of Smoke.
PS, keep tuned. A slough of posts forthcoming on Steampunk, SF, Philcon, and my 21st b-day will be happening soon!