Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo, published 1939, 243 pages
What can someone say about a book that is so well-crafted, so brilliantly conceived, so tangibly aware? I fear that this review will be nothing but treacly gushing.
Very little happens in this book. So little, in fact, that I can barely write anything about the plot for risk of giving those few events away. I will say that the growing awareness of this man's situation is terrifying, even though, due to a Metallica video, I had known the basic premise before reading it. The man, a WWI soldier, narrates the story, and it is his own realization of his situation that is the most mind-numbing. His situation is impossible to conceive, and his eventual resolve under the circumstances is even harder to imagine.
As he struggles and problem solves, he takes the reader on myriad memories, many of which could be snatched for beautiful short stories and vignettes. The memories are at once wistfully heart-felt and depressing in their irrevocability. These memories are interspersed with Trumbo's clear anti-war message, although this message never feels overdone or cliche. It is stirring, provocative, and condemning.
Trumbo's strength, other than perhaps the impossible feat of using almost no plot and little hot air to make such a compelling case against war, is his narrative style. It is difficult to find such beautifully written stream of consciousness and such delicately crafted spatterings of commentary among tender content. In short, his writing blew my mind.
I laughed out loud in wonder at his talent, and I cried the tears he wanted me to but not for the reasons that I thought I would. He was far more clever in his plan than I was in my predictions. This was the first book I have read in a long time that, as soon as I closed the book, I said aloud, "I can't wait to read this again."