Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 273
["Johnny Got His Gun"] is a fierce, brave and extraordinary novel. The author is a young Virginian who has drawn on his own varied experience of living as the back drop for the breathless silent statement of the mind and memory of Joe Bonham. The ebb and flow of consciousness in the mind of Joe Bonham makes up the book. It is a simple, direct and terrible story, in the telling.
Joe, small town American, was wounded and mutilated beyond belief, in the war of 1914–18, but yet continued to live. The story of the remembrance of his life splits through in bright kaleidoscopic shots as his sole remaining sensory medium, his skin, transmits the elemental facts of heat, cold, wet, to his consciousness. Transitions in time are very skill-fully made, and some of the strange staccato writing in the half-dream, half-memory sequences is extremely effective. Especially absorbing and exciting is the struggle to establish a means of communciation….
"Johnny Got His Gun" is strong meat for a queasy stomach. Gruesome physical details are copiously supplied, but one feels not for mere effect. The whole thing seems to be a sincere attempt to describe with fiendish clarity the effect on body and soul of subjection to war. At times the swift technique degenerates into a suggestion of uncontrolled hysteria, but throughout the book there alternate patches of savage violence with passages of a smooth, brilliant beauty. But its great contribution is not a purely literary one. It stands as a fierce and infinitely pitiful diatribe on the senseless futility of war.
Luella Creighton, "Strong Meat," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XIX, No. 227, December, 1939, p. 294.
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