Wounded terribly in Iraq three years ago, a soldier awaits his death in a burn center in San Antonio, and we learn of his fate through a surprising, unconventional, and risky narrative strategy.
Eden is the soldier who just barely survived when his Humvee hit a pressure plate in the Hamrin Valley, and the narrator is a fellow soldier who was killed in the same explosion—and who considers Eden’s fate worse than his own. Because the narrator is dead, he is granted a kind of omniscience that would be denied someone living; for example, he has access to what passes through Eden’s mind even as Eden is immobilized and practically catatonic. We learn that he and Eden had been friends in the service, had taken some of the same special training, and had been deployed together. Through a series of flashbacks we also learn of the narrator’s attraction to Eden’s wife, Mary, who in the present is grieving over Eden’s hopelessly burned body and is worried about exposing her 3-year-old daughter to Eden's insentience. Mary is faced with the morally difficult decision of whether or not to release Eden from his suffering, a strategy urged on her by Gabe, a gruff but caring nurse. Ackerman skillfully weaves his story across chapters that alternate between the grim reality of the burn center and Eden’s more robust past, where we discover that he and Mary had difficulty conceiving a child, a tension exacerbated by the narrator’s growing attraction to Mary. We’re informed that Mary and the narrator inhabit a “space that is empty and white, waiting for [Eden]....We both wonder what will happen to us when he finally goes.” The poignancy arises out of the fact that they both love Eden in their own way.
An affecting, spare, and unusual novel.