Redeployment is the best book I have read in 2015. It is a collection of short stories surrounding political, emotional, and humanity issues of the Iraq War. Phil Klay provides his readers with true entertainment. His writing is intriguing and dense. Emotion runs high, along with risk.
Klay’s writing doesn’t waste a single word. It is dense and relevant. Each short story combines multiple scenes surrounding a certain topic but his aim does not waver. Every story focuses on a different aspect of war or soldier life, making each story a unique and memorable piece of the larger puzzle.
The title story, Redeployment, was by far my favorite. It follows the rocky homecoming of a young veteran, faced with a difficult decision and the inclination of violence as a solution. The story’s emotion is paralyzing. As the first story in the collection, it demands an attention that does not let up through the entire book.
Money as a Weapons System is another powerful story about the misdirection of funding in the Iraq war, cultural road blocks, and resistance to change.
After Action Report follows the after effects of a solider forced to kill a teenage Iraqi child. What is one suppose to feel after killing a child? Guilt, fear, shame? What about a child shooting an AK with an aim to kill American soldiers? Terror, numbness, pride.
Bodies explores a young soldier’s return from war to find what was once comforting and loving is now cold and distant. Even when the soldier returns home healthy and unscarred, he realizes life will still never return to what was once considered normal.
Veterans coming home to abandoned homes
Religion on the warfront
Soldiers’ inability to reconnect to loved ones
Soldiers’ inability to talk about war
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Best Book of 2015 (so far)
My favorite book of the year. 5 stars without a doubt. You should read this!
When the call wakes me and I see the name _____ glowing in the middle of the phone, I don’t want to answer. I’m still in that half-dream state, and I’ve got this sense that if I pick up it won’t be _____ on the other end of the line, but _____, which is impossible because ____________.
The above story trigger is the first two sentences of Phil Klay’s short story “Unless it’s a Sucking Chest Wound”. My attention was immediately captured and my curiosity instantly spiked by the lines, and I wanted to share them with all of you! “Unless it’s a Sucking Chest Wound” is one of many amazing stories that appears in Klay’s collection, Redeployment.
Check back soon for my full book review on this one-of-a-kind collection of modern war stories.
Not only is Still Alice populated with great characters and vivid writing, it approaches a topic that deserves more attention. The main character, Alice Howland, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 50. Slowly, all of Alice’s passions are stolen from her. As a tenured psychology professor at Harvard, Alice’s early symptoms force her to stop attending speaking engagements and psychology conferences. Less than six months after her diagnosis, Alice is forced to stop teaching. It becomes harder and harder for Alice to participate in conversations, she gets lost in familiar places, repeats things she said minutes before, and is unable to comprehend reading material.
Although the Alzheimer’s infects every area of her life, the central focus surrounds how Alice’s family learns to live with her disease. Alice and her husband, John, have three children in their 20’s, all of whom have a 50% chance of inheriting the gene that precedes Alzheimer’s. When Alice’s oldest daughter finds out she has the gene, she has to reconsider her decision to start a family.
Point of View and Structure
The third person limited perspective gives the reader the perfect balance of Alice’s personal perspective of the situation without having the mess of an unreliable narrator. Her dementia comes across clearly without confusing the reader. Genova brilliantly used repetition to describe Alice’s short-term memory loss.
Every chapter represented one month in Still Alice. Genova typically focused each chapter on one or more events that show the progression of the disease. This consistent timeline helps the reader understand how fast the disease progresses.
Alzheimer’s vs Cancer: the public opinion
Genova describes the social stigma of Alzheimer’s brilliantly in the following passage:
[Alice] wished she had cancer instead. She’d trade Alzheimer’s for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she’d have something that she could fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her battle and consider it noble. And even if defeated in the end, she’d be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say good-bye before she left.
Alzheimer’s disease was an entirely different kind of beast. There were no weapons that could slay it. Taking Aricept and Namenda felt like aiming a couple of leaky squirt guns in the face of a blazing fire.
5 stars. Read this book! Not only is it an entertaining, emotional story, but it covers a topic every individual should learn more about. Now a major motion picture, I plan to rent the movie when it comes out on DVD and I have high expectations. :)
Have you read and watched Still Alice? How did the book and movie compare?
- Think of a situation.
- Write the situation with a clear main character.
- When finished, rewrite the same situation with a main character of the opposite sex as your first character. (If your first character was male, rewrite the scene with a female main character.)
- Compare. How did the different gender characters react to the same situation? If they handled it differently, why do you think they did so? If you’re characters have vastly different personalities, what do their gender roles have to do with it?
Although I’m female, I find the large majority of my main characters are male. It seems to me that my story ideas demand a male character in order to head in the direction I want them to. Also, I find it easier to have my characters hold in their emotions, and I stereotypically think men do that better/more often.
Hopefully this writing prompt will help me break out of my shell.
Do you find your writing leaning towards a certain gender? Do you just go with it or do you try to mix it up?
Kirsten Kaschock is known for her poetry, but she created a world that was simply too large to cram into a poem. Hence, her first novel was born, Sleight.
One of the most creative books I’ve ever read, Sleight captures a vivid, imaginative world surrounding an artistic sport that blends dance, architecture, acrobatics, and spoken word. Yeah, think about that for a while.
The complexities of the sleight performance developed throughout the novel match the depth of the characters that are venturing into uncharted territory in the sport. Kaschock spins a character web of past lovers and strained siblings. Every character has a full, complicated past, but the real questions is what their future holds. They have all come together to create a sleight performance that could be revolutionary or catastrophic.
Kaschock is a poet and it shows in the writing of her debut novel. Her writing is sharp, creative, and mysterious. She has beautiful metaphors including this ‘People are Mirrors’ metaphor I posted earlier.
The novel has footnotes, yes, footnotes that inform the reader of the history and details this world without interrupting the scene with heavy details. Kaschock uses them to great effective but I found myself skipping them completely after the first 80 pages or so, mainly because the pacing of the story was too slow for my taste.
Some chapters were written in theater-style dialogue, as seen in the photo below. I love dialogue, and therefore loved this structure. This allowed Kaschock to skip heavy description and setting details during dialogue but also forced her to implement hints at such descriptions in the dialogue itself.
Although the story begins a bit disorienting, it is in a I-need-to-know-more sort way. The strange terminology and structure made me very eager to read on in the beginning. As the story went on, however, the slow pace really pushed me away. I felt the story really began halfway through the novel and by then, I felt indifferent.
The uniqueness of this novel could populate a blog twice this long, but I’m surprised if you even read this far. :P If you enjoy creative novels that break the rules, keeping you more interested in the writing than the story itself, this is the book for you. I enjoyed the book, but didn’t love it, and honestly had trouble charging through to the end. 2.5 stars.
So many quotes flooded through the rooms and hallways of AWP last weekend in Minneapolis and I wanted to share a few here. Enjoy!
Also, see my previous post, What to Read from AWP Writers.
The Writing Process
“Inspiration comes in the middle of hard work.”
“What I write will always fall short of the ideal in my head. To write anyway, knowing that, is my greatest struggle.”
“We are always translating ourselves–from thoughts to words.” -Pablo Medina
“Sometimes you are writing to learn how to write.”
“Finding a good ending is writing your way out of the story.” -Tom Hazuka
Incorporating research/science into writing
“You’re going to make mistakes but there is a point where you get to say this is fiction, this world only exists between these two covers.”
“Your reader will be convinced more quickly than you think. They want to believe you know what you’re talking about. A few specific details generally do more than a chapter of scientific detail.”
“What is true is not always factual.”
“Its more important to write the truth than to write the facts.”
“By writing fiction, I hope to reach a wider audience than if I wrote nonfiction.”
“If I do too much research, it will kill the story.”
“Fake it as much as you can because you’re going to cut most of it anyway.”
“You’re trying to get to a deeper truth, a metaphorical truth.”
“Poems can encircle mystery in a way prose can not.” -Ted Kooser
This is something everyone in this audience has seen.” -Ted Kooser talking about his poet “Splitting an Order”
“What is true now, may not be true in the future. I’d be happy to tell you the truth if I knew what the truth was.” -Connie Wanek
“We always hear readers wanting more. They want to know more, more, more, so telling a story with less is courageous.” -Larry Smith, founder of Smith Magazine, known for its 6-word stories
“The 100-word story gives you a great feeling of completion.” -Grant Faulkner
“Flash fiction is about the spaces around the story.” -Grant Faulkner
“Trust the reader to fill in the backstory and the ending.”
Publishing quotes from editors of literary journals
“I really don’t know what I’m looking for until I see it.”
“I like to publish a mix of established and emerging writers.”
“Finding the right fiction is like hitting a moving target.”
“I can like nearly anything.”
“Silence perpetuates mystery in fiction.” (Think Hills like white elephants)
“An MFA is a prerequisite to teach, but it is not a guarantee.”
“Take your manuscripts as far as you possibly can and have reasons to back up your craft choices before you send it to publishers/agents.”
**I tried to give credit to the mouths of these quotes as often as I could but please forgive me for the many I had to leave blank. I also tried to get the exact wording, but I certainly fell short.
During the two days I spent at the AWP conference (the largest writing conference in the US) last weekend, I compiled a list of titles that we’re either being promoted or suggested by presenters. Just a fun list, most of these titles I have not read so if they are terrible, don’t blame me. haha!
Short Stories and Flash Fiction
Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway (short story)
Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville
Fissures by Grant Faulkner (a book of 100 100-word stories)
Hard Time by Courtney Watson (100-word story found here)
Splitting an Order by Ted Kooser
The News by Jeffrey Brown
Boarded Windows by Dylan Hicks
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Death and the Good Life by Richard Hugo
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer Prize winner)
The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby
The Lighthouse by Virgina Wolff
Some Other Town by Elizabeth Collison (Harper Collins book with a really catchy cover!)
I read a lot of novels. Almost all fiction. I don’t think reading John Brandon’s short story collection, Further Joy, can really be considered spreading my wings but it was certainly a change of pace. Most of my short story reading is done when I’m waiting for a new book at the library and I pick them out of my “best of” anthologies. Reading Brandon’s collection cover to cover without interruption was a enjoyable, new experience! If you love reading but novel after novel is starting to feel stale, pick up a book of short stories!
Brandon doesn’t try to fool you. He lays out the characters intentions from the start; he does not cover up their past or paint a perfect picture of the future. He introduces his reader to a solid character, giving all necessary information, and then walks through a period of transition in their lives and leaves the ending up to the reader.
Brandon’s mix of action vs. description sets an example every writer should study. He mixes a single descriptive sentence in a paragraph of action (and vice versa) to great effect.
Individual Stories from Further Joy:
By far my favorite story in the collection! The Picnickers follows a middle-aged woman and her friend’s teenage son as they spend a day together. The story explores the constraints of adulthood as they are directly compared to the freedom of youth. The unlikely characters find out that through their many differences, shared emotions overcome everything else.
The Differing Views
A guaranteed eyebrow-raiser, The Differing Views is a new look at a character study. Beginning in despair, the main character slowly takes control of his life once seven living brains appear in his spare bedroom. There’s not a lot of action, but this story will surely stick with me.
A great story of a man who is on the edge of disaster and continues to lean over the edge when he should be back peddling. The first story in the collection, The Favorite sets a reliable mood for the rest of the collection.
This title story stands out. With no main character, no named characters, and no clear plot line, Further Joy explores the complicated relationships of fathers and daughters. The story contains secrets, daydreams, desires, hopefulness, and uncertainty.
True to the title, most of the stories in Further Joy end at a moment of hopefulness with bliss peaking over the horizon. I enjoy the open endings. I enjoy the concise writing and I enjoy the attraction of the main characters to oddball outsiders. 4 star review!
The AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference begins TODAY in Minneapolis!! The build-up has been unreal here in the Twin Cities and I feel very lucky to be attending the conference Friday and Saturday.
Check back in the following weeks for recaps of the best panels, readings, and events I attend during the conference.
Here is a great piece of dialogue from Kirsten Kaschock’s Sleight, one of the most creative books I’ve ever read.
Even when Marvel started going terribly wrong–soon after Gil’s death–she would only say, “Your brother is not of the usual stuff, Byrne. He can’t be held up to the usual mirrors.” And when Byrne asked, “Mom, what other mirrors are there?” she’d answered, “Oh–glass at night, and tinfoil. And some people are. They’re walking knives–you can see yourself in them, but you’re cut up.”