Most critics really liked Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke (Booklist certainly did, too; the book earned a star from the tough-minded Ben Segedin). But it’s always interesting to read the outlier reviews. After all, book reviewing would be pretty boring if we all agreed on everything. And, boy, does B. R. Myers disagree (“A Bright Shining Lie,” Atlantic Monthly):
When a novel’s first words are "Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed," and the rest of it evinces no more feel for the English language and often a good deal less, and America’s most revered living writer touts "prose of amazing power and stylishness" on the back cover, and reviewers agree that whatever may be wrong with the book, there’s no faulting its finely crafted sentences – when I see all this, I begin to smell a rat. Nothing sinister, mind you. It’s just that once we Americans have ushered a writer into the contemporary pantheon, we will lie to ourselves to keep him there.