In his debut novel, Burton explores a soldier’s struggle with PTSD years after his experiences in the Vietnam War.
San Diego, 1989: Luke Sims’ outburst during a self-help session at the Veteran’s Center is so explosive—so intensely reminiscent of their time in Vietnam—that it sends the other ex-military members of the support group fleeing into the night. When Luke calms down, his VA counselor recommends he return to the hospital for yet another round of tests and yet another regimen of drugs. Most nights, in his dreams, Luke returns to the war in scenes of striking detail. He’s a Force Recon Marine once again, lying motionless in the jungle for days on end, scouting enemy movements, fearing for his life, killing when it’s necessary for mission success. He’s haunted by the loss of his unit, of which he’s the lone survivor; worse than the guilt he suffers over their deaths is the fact that he no longer has anyone around to force him to feign bravery. Burton’s novel takes readers through the history of Luke’s fear: as a draftee, as a soldier in country, and as a civilian attempting to re-enter society. His is a journey of decades. The long war didn’t end when he came home; for him, it may never end. Burton is a talented writer capable of rendering the quiet tension that makes up so much of wartime. Prose suffers from occasionally awkward syntax, and the war scenes are more engaging than scenes of Luke in the book’s present; perhaps this reinforces the inescapability of the conflict, as the brutal vividness of the jungle forever drowns out the mundanity of his postwar life. Treating Luke with tremendous sympathy, Burton successfully communicates some of the ideas underrepresented in cultural portrayals of war: the loneliness of soldiering, the constant isolation and fear, and the territory between sanity and mental collapse that PTSD seems to occupy.
A compassionate, disquieting tale of a soldier’s attempts to leave war behind.