Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Resuscitation of a Hanged Man is Johnson’s fourth novel and continues his exploration into the spiritual lives of characters living on the edge of mainstream America. Johnson’s four collections of poetry and previous novels have focused on misfits, people who cannot speak for themselves or articulate their experiences of life.

Johnson began his career as a poet, receiving recognition at an early age. When he was nineteen, his first collection, The Man Among the Seals (1969), attracted substantial critical attention, and his third collection, The Incognito Lounge and Other Poems (1982), was a National Poetry series selection. Yet Johnson always wanted to be a novelist, and in 1983 his first novel, Angels, was published. Resuscitation of a Hanged Man firmly established Johnson as a serious contemporary writer remarkable for the complexity and depth of the material he tackles in his work. In 1992, he published a collection of short stories, Jesus’ Son.

Johnson uses bizarre, freakish characters and incidents as more than trendy window dressing in his fiction. Through them, he explores the chaos and corruption of a modern society lacking a spiritual core. Johnson’s skill lies in making characters such as Leanna and Leonard’s crazed kidnappers transcend the absurd and sometimes incredible aspects of the novel.

Critics have remarked on Johnson’s fascination with such...

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