A moving journey through grief, loss, war, and new beginnings for three childhood friends on the cusp of finally growing up.
Irish debut novelist Sheehan packs an emotional gut punch in his new book, as well as a fair number of laughs—a tightrope walk to be sure, but one he handles with aplomb. The story is set in the mid-1990s and concerns the efforts of Karl and Baz, two friends, to help their friend Tom, a failed war correspondent–turned–relief worker, who returns to their native Dublin from the Bosnian War a shellshocked ghost of his former self. Karl and Baz convince Tom to accompany them to an experimental treatment facility for PTSD in Northern California, a last-ditch effort to restore some semblance of a normal life for him. The novel alternates between Karl’s first-person narrative (which shifts between laugh-out-loud schoolboy humor and heartbreaking pathos, often in the same breath) and Tom’s sober, journalistic account of his time in Sarajevo, of atrocities witnessed, of friends made and lost. As such, the novel reads as part buddy road movie, part harrowing war movie, switching between hijinks and horror. Hovering above the entire narrative is the memory of Karl’s foster brother, Gabriel, who committed suicide not long before the book begins, an albatross of grief and regret hanging around the characters’ necks. The novel reads like a long, slow reveal—several of the most dramatic events that give the story its heft show up in the first few pages, but the hows and whys are slowly doled out over the course of the rest of the book, and this keeps the reader involved. Certain events in the third act may be a bit too far-fetched for some, but they serve the story well; with the depth of character on display here, a few plot points do not affect the emotional impact of the conclusion.
A paean to friendship and the resilience of the human spirit.