A young Iraq War veteran tries to escape his past in Perry’s (More Beautiful Women, 2015, etc.) latest novel.
In 2008, 26-year-old Jesse McCallister is fresh from the battlefields of Iraq. Rather than returning to the Army for an ordered third tour, Jesse takes his share of the proceeds from the sale of his dead parents’ land and flees his native Texas for Europe. “He’d just wanted to go,” Perry writes, “and watch the flat horizons of the Iraqi desert and North Texas recede in his rear-view mirror.” In Switzerland, Jesse falls in love with a beautiful Italian waitress named Sonya and falls in with a crowd centered around a wealthy young American named Michael Barnes. Barnes helps Jesse acquire a new passport, literally and figuratively giving him the opportunity to choose a new identity for himself. Jesse and Sonya soon marry, and the newly formed group of friends wanders down to the French Riviera. While the immediate moment is filled with pleasure, Jesse can’t escape the traumas of combat in Ramadi. And Jesse is not the only one of these young people with a past to escape. The present itself becomes more troubled, as the group migrates to Côte d’Ivoire in Africa with charitable intentions. The dialogue in the novel is often less than believable—Jesse picks up Sonya with the line “You look like a pretty actress. Like someone in the movies.” Much more strongly developed is Jesse’s interior life. Perry deftly draws Jesse’s memories into the present. The novel resembles the post–World War I Lost Generation works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, most notably the latter’s The Sun Also Rises (which also features a character named Barnes). Aside from the appearance of modern elements like cellphones and credit cards, this story could almost take place 80 years earlier. The author effectively builds on his historical model while making it relevant to the key events of the contemporary era, such as the 2008 financial crisis and the Iraq War.
A skillful tale of an American’s trauma and expatriation.