On the road with PTSD: vets on bikes travel to the heart of darkness to heal their wounds.
Miller (The Year of the Gadfly, 2012, etc.) starts her novel with a tease: a letter to someone named Willy from someone named CO Proudfoot that includes the unexplained line: "I wish you hadn't ruined our friendship with all that. But you did, so here I am." This epistolary thread is one of several plotlines in this complicated novel about damaged veterans and the people who love them. The series of letters reveals bit by bit a horrific event in Vietnam that affected several of the characters, foremost a man named King Keller. Known in his hometown "as the Landmine due to his unpredictable outbursts," King is the father of 21-year-old Becca, recently married to Ben, himself an Iraq vet and also the son of a Vietnam vet. Ben's storyline details the experiences in Iraq that have turned a gentle young man into a drunken wife-beater. After Ben attacks her, Becca runs to her dad's house and ends up joining him and a posse of vets on a cross-country motorcycle trip to a desert compound in Utah. There, the author of the letters, CO Proudfoot himself, is running a cult, offering vets like King a form of healing "as powerful and terrible—and perhaps as unthinkable—as his trauma." Searching for both his runaway wife and for his lost sense of self, Ben is on his way to the compound as well. So is Becca's mother, Jeanine, who gave up on King years ago and joined a Christian group called the Hands of God Church. Once everybody meets up, the story takes a dizzying turn into Game of Thrones territory, as a violent contest involving heavy hallucinogens in a heated hogan is held to determine who will take the place of the CO when he steps down.
Strong, well-developed portraits of veterans' experiences and relationships are undermined by a lurid, unrealistic ending.