As its subtitle indicates, Gunther’s book is more a personal reminiscence than a traditional biography; Gunther takes a subjective approach in his writing, adopting the persona of a storyteller rather than of a historian. Thus, his tone is affectionate and perhaps overly idealistic sometimes—“Johnny was as sinless as a sunset,” he writes at one point—but his is the voice of a grieving parent, not an objective reporter of facts, and that voice is authentic.
A number of themes emerge from this story, the most obvious being the triumph of the human spirit in the face of catastrophe. Gunther claims that “this is the central pith and substance of what [I am trying] to write, as a mournful tribute not only to Johnny but to the power, the wealth, the unconquerable beauty of the human spirit, will, and soul.” Frances Gunther suggests another theme, more closely tied to the Donne poem: that death is simply a part of life and not the end of it, that it is not a bad thing but that it was too premature in Johnny’s case. Johnny himself identifies a third major theme in his diary. “Live while you live, then die and be done with,” he writes. “Take more pleasure in life for its own sake.” The idea that people should live life to the fullest while they can—known as carpe diem, Latin for “seize the day”—is a recurring theme in literature, perhaps never communicated so forcefully as in this story of a promising life cut short....
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