I am sitting in Starbucks in Los Feliz, LA. Yes, I'm in LA and I am soaking up the sun and loving it. Especially since when I left NYC, it was snowing/sleeting/raining. God, I totally get how people come live here and NEVER leave. I spent the day roaming around the streets (on foot, of course, because I don't *really* know how to drive), and shopping and going into indy bookstores and boutiques. And yet somehow I end up in Starbucks.
Anyway, since the flight was SEVEN hours last night, I finished Tree of Smoke. Yay!
You know what? So these are my final thoughts about the book now that I finished. The book, for a long time, seemed sprawling, a little aimless, and I kept wondering how it was going to come together, if it was ever coming together. I have to say that the last 150 pages really won me over. My criticisms against the book are that I still felt like some parts dragged, even in the end, and it didn't all tie together nicely as I would have liked for it to. BUT, Johnson's writing is so touching at some points, it didn't matter.
The storyline I had the most trouble with in the beginning - that of Skip - became really compelling towards the end. His mother's letters were so heartbreaking, seeing how he had to deal with his Uncle's death, and his letters to Kathy in the end. It was just so so so raw.
Most disappointing, I'd say, is how the Houston brothers story sort of petered off into nothing, especially because I'd found them the most compelling to start off with. They just disappeared for 100 pages.
But the thing is that it DOESN'T tie together neatly, because WAR doesn't. The endings of all the characters were so tragic, because they all sort of end up as fuck-ups, and it's kind of like.... that's what war does to you. It fucks you up so you can't function in society. And everyone involved in this war remained completely fucked up. Because after everything in the war, the regular world seems completely stupid. At least that's what I gather from these characters. It's a tragedy, really. A tragic book.
There are so many parts of the book, especially towards the end, that I just thought, damn, Johnson is AMAZING. Because the way he breaks your heart is so unique, so fresh, so DIFFERENT. The way I feel when I read something he's written that's poignant is completely different than how I feel when I've read other books. There's something boozy and off-kilter about it, that makes you think of being left in yellow dust. That's what I think, anyway. I wish I had marked everything I liked, so I could rewrite it here... but it'd be too much anyway.
So my final verdict for this book is this: it took a LOT of patience. And I think it could have been edited with a touch closer hand, because I did have some trouble pushing myself through sometimes. And the parts with the translated Dr. Bouquet things, I was just like, what? Skip, next. So I think it's a little sprawling and a little difficult. But it was worth it for me in the end. The gems are totally worth the parts where I had to plod through. In fact, I'm already starting to forget how I felt when I originally was on the fence on this.
But because it was difficult for me to read, I'm going to give this a good instead of a great. It won me over in the end, but it was a rough road.