Why this book: Suggested by my friend Janar in my reading group, as a short and powerful book. We selected it as an optional addition to our longer selection for August.
Summary in 3 sentences: Two good friends and lance corporals in the marine corps are in a humvee that hits a landmine in the Hamrin Valley in Iraq – one of them is killed and the other severely burned and injured. This story is told by the one who was “lucky” – the one who was killed, as he observes from the “other side” his friend Eden barely conscious, severely burned and wounded, unable to speak, confined to a hospital bed, and he relates stories about their lives from before they deployed into Iraq. A central character in the book is Eden’s wife Mary, how as now a single mother, she deals with having a husband who can’t be a “husband” and father, her guilt about her feelings and for some things in their relationship before he deployed.
My impressions: Short very powerful and impactful. Not a happy uplifting story, but a story of courage – Eden’s in some cases, and Mary’s in some cases – good and poor decisions they made, and how to live with moral and existential dilemmas that can’t be escaped. Our narrator dispassionately describes what he observes and gets into Eden’s and Mary’s heads, and we see how hard it is for husband and wife to accept and come to grips with their current reality. It is a short novel – 125 pages of large print on small pages with short chapters – more a novella than a novel. It is very well written. For the power and impact of this novel – it is very much worth the limited time and effort to read it.
This book reminded me in many ways of Johnny Got his Gun by Dalton Trumbo which I read maybe 50 years ago, about a soldier wounded in war, and left in his hospital bed, with no arms, no legs, blind, deaf, and unable to speak. Only able to feel. But fully conscious – and we experience his impressions of his very limited world. Eden was similar, but burned as well, and not completely mentally coherent – in and out of clarity. His world was vague impressions of what was happening in his hospital room, and some dreams and a few horrible hallucinations.
The narrator was watching all this from “the other side.” He would occasionally enter Eden’s dreams and he and Eden would converse – but he was “waiting for Eden” to die and join him. He relates that he doesn’t know what would happen then – would they go to another dimension? Something else? But for the time being, he was “waiting for Eden.”
Eden’s wife Mary is actually the central figure in the book. She is the heroine. She is young, attractive, from a blue collar background, leads an exercise group in a local gym. She married Eden soon after the joined the Marines, with dreams and desires typical of young women anywhere. And then after his 1st combat tour to Iraq, he changed and things changed between them – and she didn’t understand. She tried to talk him out of reenlisting and going back. She got pregnant before he left. Then an impossible situation was forced on her. She had to make and live with decisions she had made before he deployed, and then must deal with the reality of her husband returning a mere shell of the man she had married. She is a powerful figure.
This is a short book and one I won’t soon forget. I highly recommend it.
A great review. Your review is so well written that it sets a example for reading for your friends like me. You avoid giving away the most important plot twist while pointing to why Mary is the most important character. You also discuss the issues of post combat mental health without using the overused terminology.
Thanks Janar and thank you for recommending the book. ‘Mary is reading it now and is also finding it compelling and engaging.