Author: Katey Schultz
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Soldiers / War / Iraq / Afghanistan / Short Stories / PTSD / Military Families / Non-Combatants)
Publisher/Publication Date: Loyola University's Apprentice House (5/2013)
Source: MindBuck Media
Did I finish?: I did, in a single morning.
One-sentence summary: Thirty-one short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the soldiers, the survivors, and the citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan responding to the violence.
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's simple and sparse. As many of the stories have the POV of someone young, the use of the toy soldier is smart, I think.
I'm reminded of...: Tara L. Masih
First line: Now there's waiting to get deployed and there's waiting to get shot at., from 'The Waiting: Part I'
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you're interested in stories about the military and those impacted by war.
Why did I get this book?: Curiosity.
Review: This slender collection of short stories and 'flash' fiction packs a punch; I sat down on a Sunday morning with a little bit of dread, I admit, nervous about how grim the stories would be and how the author -- who has no military experience -- would handle the topic. Despite my wildly liberal political leanings, I'm from a military family and the US military is a complicated animal for me. I wasn't interested in a wholly patriotic wash nor aggressive criticisms. I was surprised to find I'd finished this book just as my wife came in for her first cup of coffee -- and that I really liked it. (My experience isn't dissimilar to that of Vestal Review, and we both had the same thoughts upon finishing.)
Comprised of thirty-one short stories and flash fiction (shorts in 150 words), the stories share the points of view of active duty US soldiers, families in Iraq and Afghanistan affected by the conflict, military spouses and loved ones, the damaged and the healing.
While the opening piece felt a little too clever for me -- a soldier in Afghanistan is bitter about Americans watching Hollywood action flicks at the mall -- the rest of the collection wasn't self-conscious or smugly ironic. Sad, a little crude, bittersweet, frightening, and at moments, even happy, these stories run a range of emotions rather beautifully.
Schultz's writing is clear and to the point, no wasted words or flighty, aloof sentiments. While Schultz isn't graphic in articulating the violence these soldiers and survivors see, it's apparent, tempered with resilience and the grim determination to survive.
Some of my favorite pieces include 'The Quiet Kind', about a husband and father's 'quiet' PTSD and the frigid barriers between him and those at home; 'Deuce Out', in which the younger teenaged sister of a man serving in Afghanistan decides to emulate her beloved older brother; 'KIA', the sparse and heartbreaking outline of a man killed in action; 'Checkpoint', about the devastating impact of misunderstanding cultural gestures; and 'Aaseya & Rahim', about an Afghan couple in an arranged marriage who find themselves in love with each other as they both work hard to survive.
A surprising but satisfying collection, those who are interested in stories of the military and those impacted by war will likely enjoy these pieces. Schultz is another writer now on my 'to watch for' list.