This was the first Denis Johnson novel I read and, Tree of Smoke and all, for me it is still the best. It is hard to know where to start with a novel in which everything is done so beautifully. For one thing, DJ seems to have a particular affinity for the California coastline he describes. The landscape is always alive and changing, full of rolling mists and sudden losses of visibility. For another, the central characters - while they are enigmatic, to say the least - have a strange and magical clarity to them. But most of all, this is a novel that takes extraordinary risks and comes up with a solution to them all. There are so many disparate elements, bizarre motivations and mystical visions, as well as the ranges in register between the comic criminal types, the wonderfully flaky hippies and the beautiful drunk who stands at the heart of the book. The narrator rambles as well as Kerouac but somehow, at the same time, keeps it as tight as the Delillo of White Noise and The Names, although the closest direct comparison would probably be Pynchon's Vineland. The denouement is like an optimistic American riposte to Dostoyevsky - and the whole thing is full of subtle humour and a generosity of spirit.