Three women struggle to heal after the trauma of war.
Novelist and award-winning journalist Benedict (Sand Queen, 2011, etc.) continues her focus on the Iraq War, the theme of her previous novel, in a bleak, affecting tale set in a cheerless town in upstate New York. The story begins in August, when the air is sticky, the sky ominous, and a life-changing hurricane is about to arrive. “It smells wrong,” 9-year-old Juney says. Juney, who's blind, is the daughter of Rin Drummond, a single mother who served in Iraq, where her husband was killed. As a sergeant, she was called Dragon Drummond, “tough as boot leather and mean as a rattrap,” qualities now intensified by rage. Surrounding her home with fences and barbed wire, she arms herself with rifles, M4 carbines, and an ample supply of ammunition; and she raises three wolves, wild creatures with an instinct for self-protection like her own. At the local Veterans Affairs hospital, Rin encounters Naema, who was a medical student in Sand Queen and now is a pediatrician. Naema has a facial scar from shrapnel, surface evidence of deep emotional wounds: her husband, because he was an interpreter for the American Army, was “atomized into a cloud of blood” by a bomb that also took off half the leg of her young son, Tariq. After fleeing from Iraq and spending years as a refugee, Naema sees her work for the VA as an effort “to undo the war” by healing children hurt “by this terrible inhumanity.” The novel’s third protagonist is Beth, the wife of a Marine who has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving Beth to raise their rebellious son by herself. Lonely, Beth turns to drink to numb her pain; the war infuses every moment of these women’s lives. Benedict creates a tender friendship between Tariq and Juney; although they, too, are victims of war, they have emerged as loving, intuitive, and wise. Their kindness toward one another is a rare glimmer of light in a desolate landscape.
The “very long reach of war” transcends generations.