The raves for Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke (FSG, $27) are entirely warranted. Need convincing? Our reviewer (see page C21) mentions a vivid description of a missionary priest’s last moments. Here’s the passage in full: “He turned and saw among the sago fronds a most curious sight: a Western man in Western garb holding a long tube to his lips. Something like a bamboo reed. As Carignan examined this sight and prepared to make some sort of greeting, the man’s cheeks collapsed and something stung the padre in the flesh over his Adam’s apple and seemed to lodge there. He reached up to brush it away. His tongue and lips began to tingle, his eyes burned, and within seconds the sensation was that of having no head at all, and then of losing touch with his hands and feet, and abruptly he didn’t know where any part of him was, every part of him seemed to go away. He did not feel himself collapsing toward the
The passage quoted above struck me as impressionistic, and our reviewer mentions Conrad’s influence, so I put two and two together and looked up “impressionism” in David Mikics’ excellent A New Handbook of Literary Terms (Yale, $35). Here’s what I found: “A short-lived literary movement during the decade beginning in 1910, based in the ideas of the novelists Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad. Ford remarked that ‘life [does] not narrate, but [makes] impressions on our brains’ .… Impressionism, which draws on the philosophical tradition of skepticism, may require the dismantling of conventional narration in an effort to give what Ford calls ‘the impression not the corrected chronicle’: ‘the sort of odd vibration that scenes in real life really have.’”
ROBERT DRAPER HAS SPENT SOME quality time in the White House. Mr. Draper is the GQ correspondent who convinced George Bush to sit still for the interviews—“five one-on-one sessions”—that are the selling point of his Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (Free Press, $28). The first interview was held in “the small conference room beside the Oval Office.” How does Mr. Draper choose to describe the location? It’s the place where Mr. Bush’s predecessor “infamously found leisure time with Monica Lewinsky.” Well, that certainly puts things into perspective.
But why dwell on the past? Bill Clinton seems to be looking forward to a happy outcome to the next election. In his new book, Giving (Knopf, $24.95), he writes about all the volunteer work Hillary did while he was in government: “My wife was my first role model for what it means to be a public servant without public office.” And then he adds—brace yourself—“Now that we’ve switched places ….”