In the middle of a horrific night, Katherine Stuart barely escapes being murdered by her abusive husband in the kitchen of their suburban Boston home. In the aftermath of utter loss and devastation, Katherine is sought out by Lucy Dudley, an elderly woman living on a family farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, who reads about Katherine in the news and is drawn to her by a closely guarded history of her own. Katherine, unable to bear the accusing eyes of her family, accepts Lucy’s invitation to come to Vermont, setting in motion a deepening relationship between the two women that frames a universal struggle to heal and reclaim what severe trauma takes from people’s lives. The First Thing and the Last is an inspiring, heartbreaking story of the resilience of the human spirit.
To listen to Allan Johnson’s interview about the novel on National Public Radio’s Here and Now, click here. To read Chapter 1 of the novel on the Here and Now website, click here. To read his two-part interview with The Pixel Project, a global organization dedicated to ending men’s violence against women, click here.
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Praise for The First Thing and the Last
This beautiful, brave, and liberating book is a triumph of the spirit. Engrossing and exquisitely written, it shines with rare courage and a tender, life-saving wisdom that comes only through facing the darkness we suffer or inflict on others. It is a marvelous story whose characters I am glad to have in my life.” Joanna Macy, Author, World as Lover, World as Self
Allan Johnson’s illumination of the mind of a woman recovering from horrific abuse and loss is miraculous, carried by a story that is both gripping and inspiring. It is a stunning achievement.” Jean Kilbourne, Creator, the award-winning film series, Killing Us Softly
Readers at the Family Violence Project were so taken by Allan G. Johnson’s book, The First Thing and the Last, that this Maine Humanities Council selection is now recommended for all FVP staff and volunteers, and at least one member of our group is even considering reading it with survivors. It is a beautiful, compelling novel that proceeds from the beginning of an abusive relationship through terror and tragedy, conflict with a legal system that privileges abusers, and finally through healing and recovery. FVP’s adoption of the book illustrates how the MHC’s Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative is making a difference—and if this article’s interested readers were to pick up the book, that could make a difference, too.” Maine Humanities Council Update, Winter, 2015/2016
This story could have been relentlessly downbeat, but is more concerned with the redemptive powers of friendship and forgiveness than the specters of violence and self-recrimination that haunt its characters. The scenes of abuse are graphic, but they set up convincingly the real story, how Katherine, Lucy and those around them can rise above what is perpetrated against them to reclaim their places in the world. Johnson seizes every opportunity to challenge preconceptions about domestic violence and the popular tendency to hold victims accountable for the actions of their abusers . . . . lyrical prose, sympathetic characters and an unwavering sense of hope and compassion make for a moving, engaging read.” Publishers Weekly
This heart-wrenching novel is the story of the will to survive, even when it has all been taken away. It is the story of what happens behind closed doors and smiling faces and perfect families. It is a story of domestic abuse. In his first novel, Connecticut author Allan Johnson paints the picture of Katherine Stuart’s harrowing night at the hands of her abusive husband, and her redemption in her deepening relationship with Lucy Dudley, who has her own secrets to share. This book is not for the faint of heart, but Johnson’s writing is breathtakingly real and well-created, showing Katherine’s view from the inside out. It is both mesmerizing and heartbreaking. Hartford Magazine
Allan Johnson’s writing is moving, insightful, and deeply human. He takes us inside painful lives with courageous truth-telling, yet at the same time takes us inside of characters who can heal and thrive. This is a novel that rings true, and that we need urgently to take into our hearts.” Lundy Bancroft, Author, Why Does He Do That?
The First Thing and the Last portrays an extraordinary woman who is brutalized – but the abuse becomes her sorrow and not her identity in Allan Johnson’s complex, masterful, and exacting understanding of such a woman’s life. His ability and willingness to see so deeply, to portray a woman and her story so profoundly, takes our breath away. Welcome this extraordinary and most original novelist to the ranks of American literature.” Deena Metzger, Poet, novelist, and author of Writing for Your Life
Read this book. Savor it. Allow it to work on your spirit and body and mind as only a well-told tale of high morality and beauty can. Share this book with those you love and those you don’t; suggest it to everyone and share it widely. This is the kind of book that culture depends on, and by culture I mean a shared sense of responsibility, and I mean shared community: civilization in the truest sense of the word. To truly be human and to truly be civilized, our public life is in desperate need of more works of art like this one. Share this book and, in whatever way possible, encourage the publication of more like it.” Charles Dickey, Leftunder Books
The First Thing and the Last is a must-read for anyone working to end domestic and sexual violence and for those interested in educating themselves about the issue. Allan Johnson has deftly woven the issues of intimate-partner violence, trauma, and healing into a compelling novel that challenges the reader to question their own beliefs and assumptions about family violence. The First Thing and the Last firmly establishes Johnson as ally in the fight to end violence against women.” Erika Tindill, Esq., Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition against Domestic Violence
The First Thing and The Last is a novel that leaves an indelible impression, and whose characters are likely to remain with the reader long after the back cover is closed. Johnson’s exquisite prose provides a visceral, sensory experience from the first page to the last. His beautifully drawn characters provide gentle, guiding hands for traversing the path from devastating loss and trauma to the freedom and grace that become possible through human connection. It is a journey worth taking.” Amazon.com Customer Review
I will never forget these characters and their stories. I have considerable personal and professional experience with men’s violence against women and trauma, and this story is the most realistic and honest portrayal I have ever seen in fiction. The story is heart breaking but this novel is not depressing — it is ultimately hopeful and human and real. It is tragic and beautiful — like most of the real life survivor stories.” Amazon.com Customer Review
Named by O Magazine as a “Great Read” for April 2010.
The First Thing and the Last is available in hardcover (ISBN 978-1-93551-469-5) paperback (ISBN 978-1-93551-441-1) online at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com or through your local bookstore (distributed by both Ingram and Baker & Taylor). For the Kindle edition, click here.
Allan G. Johnson began his work on men’s violence against women in 1977 as a Rape Crisis Service volunteer. He has authored research, testified before legislative committees, consulted with national and state organizations, and served on the board of the Connecticut Coalition against Domestic Violence.
Cover Art – pastel, Clouds Over Death Valley, by Karen Jones.