St. Hilaire’s (Inseparable, 2015) 26 short stories and poems voice the individual agonies of soldiers and those who love them.
Dedicated to members of the armed forces, particularly those who suffer from PTSD or have committed suicide after returning home, the collection presents powerful testimony that war wounds run deep, fester, and remain—whether or not they are shared with others. Although the author offers these tales of trauma as a means of honoring service and lessening suffering, she understands the high stakes. A list of toll-free numbers for suicide prevention organizations and veterans’ groups appears at the end of the book. One strength here is an awareness of the limits of storytelling. Sometimes, despite a ready listener, soldiers refuse to recall their experiences. “I don’t owe you a story,” says a man who prefers to keep his time overseas private. Several tales reveal the irony of giving all to one’s country and then finding more loss and loneliness at home. We learn about psychological struggles, divorce, anger, unpaid bills, and extreme loneliness. The sense of abandonment resonates most powerfully in the first story, narrated by an injured soldier trapped in a cave. He faces a sheer, insurmountable slope of rock and can hear comrades debate his position, but they seem at first disbelieving and then unwilling to help. His position is bleak. As day turns to night, the darkness in the cave expands. An active nightmare scene ensues. The poems are less successful than the stories, as they deal in worn-out tropes. In “Honor,” for example, awkward syntax dilutes what should be a provocative subject: “ ‘To serve with honor’ is a phrase oft spoken, / Repeated over like a record broken.” The last story effectively emphasizes the worth of serving one’s country, but another reality hits hard too, with appropriately strong diction. Every “motherfucking thing on this earth,” a soldier swears, has its breaking point.
A harrowing and powerful visualization of war’s aftermath.