By: Roger Zotti
Allan G. Johnson’s latest novel, the superb Nothing Left to Lose (Plain View Press), is set in 1968. Readers are quickly introduced to the Carson Family – William, Anne, Joshua and Andrew. William served in WWII and was severely traumatized: For twenty years he has kept silent about his recurring nightmares. One son, Joshua, is a Marine serving in Vietnam. Another son, Andrew, an ROTC senior in a small New England college, will leave for Vietnam after graduating. When Joshua is reported missing in action, the family begins to come apart. Anne, for example, is “afraid of each moment of what might happen next.” Later, she says to Andrew, “Going off to war because you’re afraid not to.”
Allan’s powerful novel raises questions about war because it is, he said, “about all wars, not just the Vietnam War.” The Carson Family serves as a microcosm for “the cost of war, not just to soldiers but to their families.” Allan hopes the novel gets “readers thinking deeply about who we are, what it means to be a human being, and what that calls on us to be and do.” He hopes the readers consider “what makes war possible – even inevitable – time after time, [along with] the terrible toll it takes on people’s lives, the few we know about, the ones we see, and the many we do not.”
One of the book’s theme is that there is a family history, Allan said, “behind every soldier who shows up on the battlefield, behind the draftee who refuses to go, or behind the deserter who runs away. And when soldiers come home – with all kinds of wounds – it is the family that receives them and their wounds. How this all gets lived out is something that plays out across generations.”
When asked what prompted him to write the book, the Collinsville, CT resident said, “The honest answer is who knows? A story comes to you and grabs you by the throat and you write it.” At the same time, he pointed out that “the seeds of the story were planted back in the seventies, when I was in graduate school in Detroit.” While watching television on evening, he saw an interview with a father and his son, who’s resisting the draft. ”Suddenly, I became aware of how powerful the relationship between fathers and sons can be when it comes to masculinity and violence and war. That relationship between generations of men – between fathers and sons – was really the kernel around which this novel was built.”
Like all good literature, Allan’s latest novel (his first work was The First Thing and the Last) is seductive because it deals with issues larger than ourselves. Beautifully written, Nothing Left to Lose is courageous, compelling and provocative, but it isn’t pessimistic. Because of the author’s artistic insight and sensitivity, the Carson Family learns, grows, forgives and – above all – reaches a degree of understanding in the face of immense pain and loss. The book will strike a chord that resonates with readers.
For more information about Allan and his other works, visit www.allangjohnson.com.