Matt Cohen Douglas Barbour - Essay

Douglas Barbour

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Rock/drug scene which Cohen so perceptively explores [in Johnny Crackle Sings] is merely the dark forest through which the hero pursues his true quest. This quest, conveyed in a shifting kaleidoscope of styles, is Johnny Crackle's slow development of an operative defence mechanism against today's society….

The novel is about possible means of escape from the pressures, the 'bad vibes' in not only the Rock world (which is a killer economic society) but in the whole business world we know. Johnny tries many escapes, to the country, through drugs. Finally he tries withdrawal, changing the inside to avoid hassles with the outside: he achieves "condition zero" which is "the point at which everything blended so perfectly that it all cancelled out. In condition zero there was no input and no output. Just the circular rhythms of his own energy flow."…

Matt Cohen has developed his minor characters well; all the people who move about Johnny are individuals: as they participate, knowingly or unknowingly, in his quest, they take on real life. They are seen in fragments as people usually are, but Cohen orders the fragments of perception of which this book is built with methodical care for an ultimate unity. Johnny Crackle Sings is a worthwhile, entertaining, little novel, a big step forward from Cohen's first.

Douglas Barbour, "Books Reviewed: 'Johnny Crackle Sings'," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LI, Nos. 612 & 613, January-February, 1972, p. 80.