Foreword Reviews

Visions of Johanna

Clarion Rating: 3 out of 5

Visions of Johanna is a somber literary coming-of-age novel in which a man confronts his repressed emotions in the midst of a tumultuous relationship.

In Peter Sarno’s novel Visions of Johanna, a man falls in love with a troubled woman, but their relationship is stymied by his past.

Matt is a music critic from Boston; Johanna is an artist living in New York. The two meet at a Bob Dylan concert, and Matt is smitten. After weeks of meeting for picnics, museums, and other bohemian activities, Matt and Johanna begin a long-distance relationship.

But Johanna is seven years older than Matt, and her last relationship came to a tragic end. At the same time, Matt refuses to acknowledge his own traumas: a childhood friend of his drowned, and his relationship with his father is stormy. As the pressures from their personal issues grow and merge with the stresses of their long-distance bond, insecure Matt shifts from obsessive to avoidant, and Johanna goes in the opposite direction, altering both of their lives in unexpected ways.

Matt’s internal contradictions direct much of the text. He yearns to feel important but resists connections. He is plagued by his own tendency toward inaction. When a woman tells him that she wants to be with him in the midst of his grief, for example, he is more caught off guard by her use of a colloquialism than he is moved by her confession of feeling an attraction toward him. He is a frustrating hero, if also a consistent one. Though it follows long periods of emotional repression, his eventual growth is formidable and cathartic. At his opposite, Johanna is stereotyped as manic and flighty; her characterization is limited by Matt’s own perspective of her, so her portrayal says more about him than it does about her.

The story is slow moving, with a handful of dramatic, emotional scenes interspersed between long periods of introspective inaction. Depictions of mafia activity in the Boston suburb of Matt’s youth complement his childhood confusion, leading to musings on morality that end up being inconsequential to the central plot. Indeed, Matt’s childhood traumas are best explored near the book’s end, at which point his earlier behaviors finally make sense. This exploration is among the reflective features used to capture profound heartache, and while its treatment of Matt’s past is tender, its revelations are also too delayed.

Visions of Johanna is a somber literary coming-of-age novel in which a man confronts his repressed emotions in the midst of a tumultuous relationship.

Reviewed by Aimee Jodoin

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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