Violent deaths stud this debut collection, which has seven stories ranging from the U.S. through Iraq and Kenya to England.
Many of the deaths happen in Iraq. "The IED" deconstructs the moment a soldier on patrol steps on an improvised explosive device and is blown to hell, while in "The Fugue," the patrol leader decides that the remains of a girl—an innocent victim in a wrongly targeted house—must be burned. Back home in "The Half Moon Martyrs' Brigade of New Jerusalem, Kansas," there’s a small town with a high number of Iraq combat deaths. The teenage sons of the dead fathers invent a hazing ritual: They beat the crap out of the son of the latest casualty. This is far-fetched, ghoulish excess. The teenagers in "In the Mosque of Imam Alwani" are three humble Kurds, two of them set on fire when a shell explodes. They survive, though badly scarred. Six years later, their paths have diverged. One is a preacher while another is gay, having sex with the young worshipers at the mosque. The most bizarre story is "The Territory of Grief," about a space colony the Israelis have established for those next of kin who are mourning victims of Mideast violence. The pain in these stories gets lost in their convoluted tellings. Only in the long title story does Hemenway communicate that pain powerfully. A mother discovers, to her horror, that she cannot muster unconditional love for her 8-year-old son, disfigured out of all recognition by a terminal brain tumor, and disappears on a long trip, leaving the boy's father by the hospital bedside.
That story shows Hemenway to be a true writer, bearing witness, something the other stories had concealed.