In Litwack’s (There Comes a Prophet, 2012) latest novel, a young U.S. Army lieutenant tries to overcome his physical and emotional demons after he’s wounded in Iraq.
Freddie Williams wakes up in a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Boston to discover that his leg has been severely damaged by a roadside bomb that killed several other soldiers in his squad. The doctors tell him that he’ll never regain the full use of his limb, and he’ll have to work hard to ever walk again. He’s initially unmotivated to do so, as he’s haunted by memories of his deceased parents and missing brother, but his tough physical therapist, Becky, encourages him. His recovery is long and difficult, and he’s beset by survivor’s guilt. Litwack intersperses the novel’s realistic portions with fantasy chapters that resemble a “World of Warcraft” video game quest; they feature Freddie’s alter ego, a dauphin called Frederick, undertaking a trip that symbolically echoes Freddie’s real-world journey. Unfortunately, these portions may appeal only to readers familiar with such fantasy tropes; to others, they may simply be jarring, as they don’t add necessary elements to the main plot or to the characters’ emotional arcs. The author has a good grasp of the difficulties facing those recovering from severe combat injuries, but his characters seem less psychologically complex as the story progresses. Freddie’s relationship with Becky is particularly predictable and troublesome; she’s depicted as more of a romanticized figure than a fully realized person, and she mainly serves as Freddie’s main motivation to get better. (She even explicitly says that she’s his “reason to make the leap” to move on through life.) Freddie’s progress is linked to his idealized vision of Becky, which lessens the story’s overall emotional resonance.
A sometimes compelling, if flawed, recovery drama.