by Roger Zotti
Allan G. Johnson said his first work of fiction, The First Thing and the Last (Plain View Press), “is about a woman, Katherine, struggling to find healing and redemption in the aftermath of domestic violence, and she does that in relation to an elderly woman, Lucy Dudley, who seeks her out. Most of the novel is about the relationship between them.” In writing about the terrors of domestic violence, Allan pulls no punches: While some scenes will make you shudder, at the same time you’ll praise and admire his honesty and courage. Allan will appear September 16, at the Preston Public Library, 6:30 PM, as part of the 2010 CT Authors Trail.
Because Allan began as a short story writer and poet, “this book was not really a departure for me but rather a coming home. I’d be happy writing fiction for the rest of my life.” His non-fiction works were “a pleasure and meaningful” but the fiction comes “from an artistic, much deeper place. They’re just very different.”
And for upcoming writers, he has this suggestion: “I would echo the advice of Kurt Vonnegut, where he basically said if you don’t write because you love words and love story, you’ll probably be disappointed. So I think writers need to look inside themselves for why they’re writing. If it’s for fame and money, I’d do something else.”
He wrote The First Thing and the Last because “I spent many years as a sociologist and as activist trying to understand men’s violence against women, starting in the 1970s when I volunteered at the Rape Crisis Service in Hartford, CT.” Second, several years ago his partner in life, Nora, “told me she wished someone would tell the truth about domestic violence – which planted a seed and grabbed me by the throat. Writers don’t walk away from a story when it grabs them by the throat.” Third was “the art kicked in and story came.”
Allan has a knack of getting deep inside his characters, so that we feel – in Katherine’s case – her unbearable pain. Recovering in the hospital from a brutal attack and the horrific murder of her young son Ethan by her husband, Katherine “dreams of Ethan and when she wakes and remembers she begins to cry as she feels the enormous empty space where he used to be…. She dreads the emptiness the most, something in her core gone missing beyond the reach even of memory, the sense of absence always there, appearing in the subconscious like the vague discomfort of something you were supposed to remember but whose only trace is the fading sense that you did not.” Later, when she’s thinking more clearly, she felt “an unrelenting flood of memory roaring through her mind and pelting her from every side with tastes and smells, a wound suddenly torn open.…”
“The First Thing” isn’t quickly read and forgotten – for it will resonate long after you finish reading it. Allan is a new and major voice in contemporary American fiction. … Visit www.agjohnson.us/npr for his recent interview on National Public Radio.