As I surveyed a small section in Costco dedicated to books and DVDs (I am interested in knowing what sort of books are read by people), I noticed one lone book with a stamp on the cover that says “National Book Award Winner,” placed near several stacks of American Sniper. Initially I thought it would be a non-fiction, but it was not. Although the cover picture of a soldier standing in a tiled space (most likely a lavatory) did not strike me as the kind of book that I enjoy reading I decided to buy that lone copy when I read George Packer’s pronouncement “The best literary work thus far written by a veteran of America’s recent wars,” partially due to a sense of obligation that I felt about knowing the soldiers’ stories.
Redeployment is a collection of 12 short stories, all first-person narratives. First-person narratives are particularly suited to communicate subjective experiences in uncertain circumstances, such as war and personal traumas where objectivity or common perspective is not accessible. I have read the first three short stories so far, and immediately noticed the power of each narrative voice in its visceral sort of realism, which is often achieved by successions of short lines and prophanities. The writer knows that short sentences often communicate disjointed thoughts while a long and complex sentence seems to suggest a more or less organized thought. For instance, the narrator in the first story “Redeployment” says: “So there you are. You’ve been in a no-shit war zone and then you’re sitting in a plush chair, looking up at a little nozzle shooting air-conditioning, thinking. What the fuck? You’ve got a rifle between your knees, and so does everyone else…Everybody’s hollow-eyed, and their cammies are beat to shit. And you sit there, and close your eyes and think. The problem is, your thoughts don’t come out in any kind of straight order. You don’t think, Oh, I did A, then B, then C, then D…”
Many of the dialogues are also realistically disjointed – although they sometimes remind me of Samuel Beckett’s absurd dialogues. For instance, one reads in the third story “After Action Report”: “’Fuck,’ I said. ‘Fuck,’ said Timhead. ‘You all right?’ I said. ‘Yeah.’ ‘Me too.’ ‘I feel fucking…’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Yeah. Me too.’” Being engaged in gun battles is surely alienating to the soldiers on the battle grounds. What keeps them human is, as far as the author’s narratives are concerned, a modicum of comradery and tenderness each solider seems to feel for his buddies. At the end of the second story “Frago” the author writes; “Sit back down, I’m across from Dyer and he’s looking at his ice cream melting into the cobbler. No good. I put a spoon in his hand. You’ve got to do the basic things.”