Phil Klay, 2014
Book Review by Molly Lundquist
The twelve stories in this remarkable collection—about soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan—vary in length, but the one thing they have in common are characters struggling to cope with their wounds—wounds that, for the most part, are psychic.
The stories explore the bonds of comradeship, the difficulty of religious faith in war, the unsettling linkage between sex and violence, and the ever presence in war of fear and anger. In one story, the men chant "kill, kill, kill," taking a perverse pride in their company's kill rate. When a fresh recruit makes his first combat hit, they celebrate his loss of "virginity."
Much as we might recoil, these stories require us to ask how it's possible to send young men out to fight—and die—without revving them up into killing machines. And then we have to wonder what portion of humanity they lose in the process. This is the territory these stories lay claim to.
Yet we come to love these men. Phil Klay's prose, taut and immediate, draws us inward to expose the grisly toll war has taken. With an ear well-honed to snappy dialogue, he captures the tough, affectionate, often funny banter between men who depend on each other for survival. Yet we know that it's a forced bravado.
Returning stateside the men worry about how they've changed, how the old life feels different, how they can't talk about what they've been through, how no one can possibly understand the experience of war. Their loneliness is palpably real.
A veteran himself, Klay offers a devastating insight into the state of things, both in battle and at home. These are superb stories to read and discuss in a book club. If the soldiers can go through it, we can read about it.
See our Reading Guide for Redeployment
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