“Searing stories… a necessary collection, necessary to write, necessary to read.” E.L. Doctorow wrote these words about FIRE AND FORGET (Da Capo Press, launching on Amazon, February 2013).
We feel the same about the stories and the passion to share them on Military Success Network. Now, we’ll read how Jonathan Raab, writer, teacher and Afghanistan veteran feels about this book in today’s WoW – Words on Wednesdays.
Fire and Forget: Short Stories From the Long War
Edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher
Review by Jonathan Raab
Fire and Forget from Da Capo Press is a collection of 15 short stories, painting the veteran and Long War experiences as complex, painful, and often absurd. Its pages feature unique but iconic stories of war, homecoming, and the struggle for meaning in both.
Fourteen of the writers are veterans and one is a military spouse.
Their stories came together under the guidance of editors Matt Gallagher and Roy Scranton, both veterans of the Iraq war and distinguished writers in their own right. Their experience at a veterans’ writing workshop inspired them to produce a collection of short fiction representative of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, as nothing approaching this book’s authority or quality exists within the current literature.
For many Americans, the war’s legacy isn’t memories of combat or death. It is the psychic damage in those who participated in it and returned home. It is strained or broken relationships, tension, regret, sacrifice, and fear. This collection communicates that human damage in stark and unsettling narratives.
Many of the stories are about veterans struggling to find meaning in their experiences, disassociating themselves from their present circumstances but unable to fully engage their memories.
In Jacob Siegel’s “Smile, There Are IEDs Everywhere,” he captures the cynical humor of soldiers, as his characters try to make sense of the war, but find the meaning of the thing – or the act of making the meaning of the thing – elusive. Phil Klay’s “Redeployment” is told matter-of-fact, in simple declarative sentences, like a friend sharing stories over beers. His prose contains snippets of memory: people, places, gore, torture, and death on a wall somewhere in an urban hell. “Roll Call” by David Abrams is one of the strongest stories of the collection. His soldiers are cynical and obscene, even in the midst of a memorial service for their fallen comrades. The real, authentic memorial occurs afterwards, with the men huddled together against the desert wind, smoking cigarettes and naming the names of the fallen, insulting them and, in so doing, honoring them.
Other stories reflect the monotony of soldiering set against the thirst for action. In Roman Skaskiw’s “Television” we follow a platoon leader carrying out his duties with a mechanical, detached focus, whether he is supervising his platoon’s preparations for a mission or meeting with the father of a boy shot by his men. This detachment to present circumstances is echoed in Roy Scranton’s “Red Steel India,” where a pair of disinterested soldiers pull guard duty, one pointless shift at a time.
Many of the stories contain surreal dream imagery or hallucination. Colby Buzzell’s “Play the Game,” Mariette Kalinowski’s “The Train,” Perry O’Brien’s “Poughkeepsie,” and Andrew Slater’s “New Me” all feature characters whose memories and realities are repressed through the fog of alcohol, the blur of constant movement, cartoonishly violent fantasies, or the personality-altering effects of severe brain trauma. The veterans and soldiers in these stories retreat into alcoholism, fantasy, or dreams, or push their experiences to the subconscious, where the pain and the fear reassert themselves in strange and frightening ways.
This collection paints a startling and bleak picture of Long War veterans and their lives during and after combat. While some of the characters in these stories may hope to one day readjust and to be whole again, several – particularly the men in Buzzell’s “Play the Game” and Matt Gallagher’s “And Bugs Don’t Bleed” – are completely lost, or soon will be.
Redemption is not on the menu. Instead, we see broken lives, and broken people, some trying to pick up the pieces, others too far gone to try. There is yet room in the Long War literature for stories with redemptive – or even positive – elements and themes.
That said, the voices of Fire and Forget ring true in their cynicism, pain, and humor. This is an important collection of fiction, not only because of its current-day relevancy, but also because of the strength of its diverse voices, all engaged in a search for truth among the desert sands of fiction and memory. It should not be missed by anyone with an interest in modern war or the veteran experience.
A 2:45 three-way discussion on Fire and Forget can be found, with interview on The Daily Beast.
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Our next WoW – Words on Wednesdays is on a book by an active duty infantry service member that will simply blow you away.