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Tree of Smoke: A Novel Audiobook, by Denis Johnson Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Denis Johnson Narrator: Will Patton Publisher: Macmillan Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: September 2007 ISBN: 9781427202154
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (4,838 ratings) (rate this audio book)
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Once upon a time there was a war . . . and a young American who thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally as simply the Fucking American. That's me.

This is the story of Skip Sands—spy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong—and the disasters that befall him thanks to his famous uncle, a war hero known in intelligence circles simply as the Colonel. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war in which the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, and its gritty, sympathetic portraits of men and women desperate for an end to their loneliness, whether in sex or death or by the grace of God, this is a story like nothing in our literature.

Tree of Smoke is Denis Johnson's first full-length novel in nine years, and his most gripping, beautiful, and powerful work to date.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Easily the best audiobook I listened to in 2007, "Tree of Smoke" has been called a Vietnam War book, but its reach is much deeper...Johnson has written a powerful document, and Patton matches the depth and breadth of the novel with a performance that captures the nuance of the language... Times Union
  • American actor Will Patton provides an excellent fully-voiced reading…it fits the story like a glove. He will keep listeners involved.

  • “This is the very talented Will Paton's greatest performance as a reader so far. His range of voices and evocation of character--the hopeful, the innocent, the cynical, the despairing and the mad--bring the tale to even more terrible and blistered life than the book itself, making it a 23-hour excursion into mesmerizing darkness. The Washington Post

  • Patton is outstanding...[his] performance is quiet, powerful, and gut-wrenching....This is MUST listening. AudioFile Magazine
  • Denis Johnson's novel, Tree of Smoke, is masterful and irredeemably dark…Will Patton's seamless narration transforms this novel into a superb audio. BookPage
  • Will Patton's reading of "Tree of Smoke" is superb...The experience overall is one of hallucinatory horror, laugh-out-loud outrage, of sadness at the tremendous waste of lives, money and the national pride that went into Vietnam and did not return. Sarasota Herald-Tribune
  • “Denis Johnson is a true American artist, and Tree of Smoke is a tremendous book.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “It will…get inside your head like the war it is describing—mystifying, horrifying, mesmerizing. [Johnson] has written a book that by the end wraps around you as tightly as a snake.”

    Washington Post Book World

  • “There is so much going on in Tree of Smoke, and so many levels of symbolism, that it is hard to do the story justice here…Johnson brings his talents as a poet to bear, especially when describing the jungles and cities of Asia.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “Opens a window onto a world of mystery, war, and intrigue whose importance in the (usually) unwritten history of our republic can’t be denied.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • “[An] epic, wrenching new novel…[Johnson is] immensely talented [and] delivers a beautifully layered, insightful, and visceral montage of stories.”

    Seattle Times

  • Tree of Smoke is vintage Johnson, combining the grim, gritty realism of Angels, the everyday hallucinatory absurdity of Jesus’ Son, and the post-apocalypse invention of Fiskadoro…Johnson can mold language to theme like a sculptor sculpting clay.”


  • “This vivid conjuring of an ill-advised foreign war informs the present as much as the past.”


  • Tree of Smoke is a Vietnam war novel almost without peer, in which ‘the abyss is alive…’ [Johnson] has written the best work of his career, an existential tour de force.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • “Denis Johnson’s apocalyptic, doom-and-grace ridden Vietnam novel has a lot of fire in its belly…If Johnson has a signature theme throughout his work, it’s a kind of quasi-mystical redemption on the other side of the abyss; his gorgeous prose and willingness to go deep have led the way through the scarily lightless corridors of his fiction.”

    Boston Globe

  • “It’s beautiful writing: with Johnson, the writing is always beautiful.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “Johnson is a fine stylist of the world of soulful disaster.”


  • “Johnson has written his War and Peace.”


  • “I can’t be sure that there’s been a better American novel published in the past ten years. It is a masterpiece.”

    Miami Herald

  • “A brutal beauty of a book…The visceral, poetic writing is unmistakable, and unforgettable.”


  • “Damn impressive, a layered, rich, sweaty accomplishment of massive proportions…A mammoth portrait of humanity in conflict.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “Johnson is a gifted writer with a knack for erudite and colorful dialogue, and his sense of time and place is visceral and evocative. With this worthy addition to Vietnam literature, he confidently joins the ranks of Tim O’Brien, Larry Heinemann, and Michael Herr.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Ugly and fascinating with many shattering scenes…Gripping.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “The God I want to believe in has a voice and a sense of humor like Denis Johnson’s.”

    Jonathan Franzen, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of The Corrections

  • A 2008 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Fiction
  • Winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Fiction
  • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award
  • A 2007 New York Times Book Review Top 10 Book of the Year
  • A 2007 Time Magazine Top 10 Book for Fiction
  • One of the 2007 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Fiction
  • Among longlisted titles for Best of the Year, 2007
  • Winner of Audie Award Winner, 2008
  • Among shortlisted titles for Pulitzer Prize - Finalist, 2008
  • Winner of National Book Awards - Winner, 2007

Listener Reviews

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  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 jess | 2/20/2014

    " A huge, sprawling book. I was never quite sure what Johnson was getting at, until it stopped mattering. It's the unquiet American, looping around an wreaking every character in the wake of the war. Strange and great. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 david | 1/14/2014

    " Much, much better than the usual book with this much hype -- it grabs and hold from the 1st page -- admirable technique and control "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Wade | 1/10/2014

    " I was very disappointed in this book. Denis Johnson's Angels and Jesus' Son are two of my favorite books. Judging from all the praise for this, I was expecting a great book. However, nothing really happens in this book. The characters wander without point. Johnson seems to be trying to suggest some significance, but I didn't get it. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Mike | 1/2/2014

    " God awful. A drag to read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nick | 11/23/2013

    " I'm following the thread of Johnson's writing, having started with Jesus' Son, which I adored, not only because of the wonderful shaggy storytelling style, the bumpy interconnected stories, but also because of the language, especially the dialog. He has his people talk in a very certain way, not "realistic", but very real, very propulsive with respect to the reader's understanding of the character and the story. Same here, only more so, given the epic scope of the novel, covering the early days of the Vietnam War through the denouement in the 80s. We get shards of the story that are, ultimately, driving us to an understanding of the big picture --- just exactly how the war was a folly of hubris --- and the micro story of his fictional characters --- spies and counterspies on both sides, grunts, crazies (my favorite), idealists and humanitarians, and a mysterious sort of Conradian colonel character that gives Coppola a run for his money. I felt like the winddown in the last 100 pages was a bit of a slog, until the very end, which lifted me off again. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Steve | 11/20/2013

    " Excellent - - in the audio book format. Sprawling, mythic, gritty, personal sagas. Many interesting main characters, some of whom don't become main characters until well into the book. The story almost never goes where you think it's going, but when you get there it seems truthful. Well written and well narrated. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Vi | 11/14/2013

    " Epic novel with a backdrop of Asia and the Pacific during the Vietnam War. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Corrine | 11/6/2013

    " This is a difficult, but rewarding book. There are so many interwoven stories going on that I sometimes had to stop to remember where and when I'd met these characters before. But all in all, well worth the read. Good insights into the hopeless of war. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Carew | 10/9/2013

    " I'm going to need to try this one again. For some reason I couldn't get into it... "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jason | 9/5/2013

    " It felt disjointed and was very difficult to get into. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bripfeff | 5/23/2013

    " reading this one now...great stuff on vietman. several story lines going on at once. some parts are technical...guy stuff. other parts are more universally great. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 medi | 5/11/2013

    " So far, 150 pages in, frustratingly unimpressed. Johnson does a weak Graham Greene impersonation. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 John | 4/24/2013

    " So far, so good. It sounds like people either love or hate this book. I think it's fantastic, so far. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kevin | 2/25/2013

    " Dialogue by characters in different settings begins to sound too similar after a while. The book has a number of brilliant individual moments, but feels overcome by the weight of the effort after a couple of hundred pages. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jodelle | 11/19/2012

    " 600 pages about the Vietnam War's effect on the souls of a variety of characters. The prose is impressive and seems to be what gives this book the accolade of not just another story about Vietnam. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mikecross1997 | 6/12/2012

    " This book was intense and unnerving for me. I liked to read it in quiet time and in private. Eerie and I liked it quite alot. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Mike | 5/31/2012

    " wanted to love this book because it's Denis Johnson, but found myself feeling really bogged down in it. it's a good book, no doubt, but it's a chore to get through. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Mel | 1/13/2012

    " Don't know what is wrong with me...but I just could not get into this and I rarely leave a book unread. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Rachel | 12/12/2011

    " Interesting, but too long. I was frankly disapointed, because of the great press this book received. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Claudia | 11/10/2011

    " This was an intense read - raw. The conflict within the characters was palpable added to the obvious conflicts among and around them. The writing draws you into that world. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Maggie | 10/6/2011

    " I'm sure it's as great as everyone says, but I just can't get through it so I bailed. Not my thing. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Charlie | 9/15/2011

    " Maybe I am just dumb, but I couldn't get into this book at all. I found myself rereading pages, feeling confused about who was who and what was going on, and I didn't even make it to page 100 out of 700. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Drew | 7/8/2011

    " I gave it fifty pages and felt nothing. Shelved. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Joel | 6/30/2011

    " I read this a few years ago and can't recall too much of it, but I do know that it was very informative, funny, and entertaining, mingled with some very disturbing and intense characterizations of war. I'll have to check it out again. Definitely worth a read. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Kevin | 6/2/2011

    " My brother highly recommended this book. I trudged through half of it and then just gave up on it. It really wasn't working for me. So bye-bye. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Artnoose | 5/13/2011

    " This book was left by a houseguest who started to read it but couldn't get into it. I got about 50 pages into it and couldn't hack it either. It is very rare that I connect with manly war novels--- Cryptonomicon was an exception. It is also rare that I stop reading a novel once I've started. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Katie | 5/3/2011

    " Engrossing read. I really enjoyed the story and the characterization. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Celeste | 4/11/2011

    " The description on the back of the book couldn't be more wrong. I was expecting some covert CIA psy-ops in Vietnam. I don't really know what the hell this book is about, but it wasn't that! A 700 page torpid snoozefest. I can't believe a tree died to bring me this book. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Marylp | 3/28/2011

    " Not for me. I didn't finish it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mckayd229 | 3/26/2011

    " If you think you can't read another novel about the Viet Nam War or any novel about that war think again. This book does a graceful job of capturing that past as it manages to reflect our present and future as well. Extremely well written. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jason | 3/6/2011

    " Tree of Smoke gives a different perspective on Vietnam. It's more about the people and the effects of the war and not so much about the war itself. It was a decent read but not as action packed as one might expect from a war novel. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 carl | 2/21/2011

    " How bloated can a book be? Damn bloated. What a painfully long read by what critics claim to be an American Voice. Gag. Save yourself and read The Things They Carried. "

About the Author

Denis Johnson (1949–2017) wrote eight novels, one novella, one book of short stories, three collections of poetry, two collections of plays, and one book of reportage. His novel Tree of Smoke won the 2007 National Book Award and was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and Train Dreams was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

About the Narrator

Will Patton is an award-winning actor and narrator. HIs narrations have earned the prestigious Audie Award for Best Fiction Narration and also won dozens of AudioFile Earphones Awards. His numerous film credits include Remember the Titans, The Punisher, The Mothman Prophesies, Armageddon, and The Spitfire Grill. He starred in the TNT miniseries Into the West and on the CBS series The Agency and won Obie Awards in the theater for his performances in Fool for Love and What Did He See.