An idealistic soldier deployed to Iraq and his new wife wrestle with the emotional fallout of an ugly, protracted war in Gelberg’s (Fertility, 2013, etc.) novel.
Tomas Jorgensen and Sunny Adler were sweethearts in high school, and remained so when they both graduated from college in 2003. In some ways, though, they couldn’t be more different—Tomas is a patriotic West Point cadet, and Sunny is a student at Vassar College, preparing for a career in education. His graduation speech is delivered by Vice President Dick Cheney and offers a rousing call to public duty, while hers is by writer Susan Sontag, who inspires the crowd with a dissident’s critique of government. They marry at the West Point chapel in the Jewish faith—Maj. Arnold Weinstein, a rabbi who serves as the couple’s spiritual mentor, officiates the ceremony—and the two settle into a new life together. In the beginning, their principal challenge is prolonged separation; after Tomas’ first post at Fort Drum in upstate New York, he’s selected for Army Ranger school in Georgia. Sunny throws herself into her new job as a first-grade teacher and into maintaining the household to dampen the pain of his absence. Meanwhile, Tomas, excited and anxious about the prospect of combat, finally gets orders to deploy with his brigade to Iraq. Soon, though, he and his fellow troops are enraged by the incompetence and mendacity of the nation’s political leadership and demoralized by mounting casualties. Gelberg demonstrates extraordinary restraint, allowing the couple’s collective disillusionment to build slowly but affectingly. The tenderness of their love, and its resilience, are truly endearing, and their relationship is captured in simple but often powerful prose. For example, the terrifying possibility that Tomas could die yanks Sunny into a reality that she hasn’t thought through; she tells Tomas before his deployment: “All those field exercises, I knew you loved them. The whole thing seemed like an elaborate version of man-camp.” But that “man-camp” was training for war, and Gelberg goes on to show that both Tomas and Sunny are emotionally unprepared for the danger he faces. Overall, this is a story that transcends political partisanship, and it’s resonant because it manages to be not only topical, but also timeless.
A sweeping, poignant tale of love, war, and the pain of political disenchantment.