Oh, Johnny by Jim Lehrer

March 9, 2009
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Oh, Johnny
Jim Lehrer

Random House
3-09-09
Hardcover/240 pages
ISBN: 9781400067626
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". . . dark with glimmers of hope tarnished by reality . . ."

Dark tale of arrested youth and dreams crippled by war.

 

Oh, Johnny: Dark tale of arrested youth and dreams crippled by war.

Johnny Wrigley is eighteen years old, a marine and on his way to the Pacific Theater. During a twenty minute stop in Kansas Johnny meets Betsy, one of the hostesses offering cigarettes and apples to the soldiers on their way to the front. Johnny falls in love with Betsy and promises he’ll come back, taking with him the memory of a few minutes in the storage room where he and Betsy lose their virginity together. Johnny runs to catch the train as it’s pulling out of the station and writes letters to his Betsy in his head from Kansas all the way through training as a flamethrower operator on Peleliu, one of the worst hellholes in the Pacific Theater. The only thing Johnny believes keeps him alive is Betsy, his lucky girl. His one thought is to go back to Kansas, marry her and pick up where he left off, moving up the ranks from the minors to the majors in baseball. Fate has other plans for Johnny.

Johnny Wrigley’s story is a straight forward, no frills, first-person account of a young man changed by war. Jim Lehrer’s prose is spare and echoes the vernacular of the 1940s, rife with cultural and social references that bring Oh, Johnny to life. There is a darker side to Johnny’s tale, one that parallels ultimate happiness and the specters of war, changing everything.

After the war, Johnny is unable to grow up, caught in limbo between life before the war and what remains for him after surviving the horrors that cling to him like a spectral afterimage. He meets a veteran of the European Theater and thereafter refuses to look in the mirror, afraid he’ll see the same haunted eyes and war ravaged soul peering back at him. Instead, he clings to his memories of Betsy, determined to find her. He believes that she will save him and bring him back to life.

Oh, Johnny is dark with glimmers of hope tarnished by reality told in bare and frank language without embroidery or embellishment. The horrors are as starkly matter-of-fact as the crude and immature references to sex that bear the stamp of unvarnished reality.

 

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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