I wrote an eight-page essay on this novel earlier today, but I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say, Phil Klay (pronounced like “Kly,” not “Clay”), author of Redeployment, a twelve part cycle of short stories, did an amazing job trying to create historical verisimilitude using basic language. He does not employ a stream-of-consciousness format; he speaks like a soldier would.
All kinds of soldiers. A Mortuary Affairs Marine extricating dismembered corpses from the trash heaps they landed in. An officer behind a desk at a FOB (Forward Operating Base), struggling to help reconstruct a broken country back in 2008. An 0311 (infantry), a.k.a. rifleman, or grunt, sweeping houses in 2005. An artilleryman aiming his crew-serviced Howitzer at an unseen enemy six miles, or ten kliks (kilometers), south of him. A graduate student using mixed martial arts to distract himself from the fact that his classmates haven’t seen what he’s seen.
After his own deployment, author Phil Klay conducted years of research, resulting in a National Book Award Winner that attempts to show OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) with all its realities, and without political spin or pointless moralizing. Klay tries to tell it like it is. As a civilian, I wouldn’t know either way, but what I can say for sure is that the book leaves a lasting impression.
I would like to hear what veterans think of Redeployment. In the meantime, let me leave you with the passage (pp. 261-62) from the story “Unless It’s a Sucking Chest Wound” that I analyzed to death in my essay. I argued that this quote contains all of the major themes of the book, and elucidated on every aspect of war that could be traced from this story to the other eleven. This is Phil Klay’s wonderful writing, not mine:
The first few months we had a lot of sex, and I went on a lot of runs. You run fast enough, it gets better, all the pent-up emotions expressed in the swing of your arms, the burn in your chest, the slow, heavy weight of exhaustion in your legs, and you can just think. You can think in a rage, in sorrow, in anything at all, and it doesn’t tear you up because you’re doing something, something hard enough to feel like an appropriate response to the turmoil in your head. Emotions need some kind of physical outlet. And if you’re lucky, the physical takes over completely. When I used to do mixed martial arts, that would happen. You exhaust yourself to the point where only pain and euphoria remain. When you’re in that state, you don’t miss everything else, all the little feelings you have.
When I was in Iraq, I saw Marines come in injured and I’d go visit them with Lieutenant Colonel Motes, the incompetent asshole whose poor grasp of COIN was getting them hurt. A lot of them, they wouldn’t ask about themselves or about the terrible injuries they had. They’d ask about their buddies, the Marines with them, even the ones not hot hurt as bad. Inspiring stuff. Except when I saw those guys, they’d already been given anesthetics of some kind. Plus, all the really bad ones were unconscious. After the suicide bombing, though, some of the Iraqis we saw were in so much pain, they were just writhings. If their eyes were open, they weren’t seeing, and those whose ears hadn’t burst weren’t hearing, and I’m sure if they could have though anything, they’d have thought about their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, friends, but their mouths were just screaming. A human being in enough pain is just a screaming animal.
You can’t get there with pleasure. You can try, but you can’t.