Eck’s debut follows a group of American GIs who are left behind in enemy territory and must find their way back.
In an unnamed, presumably African city occupied by the U.S. Army, a group of six soldiers are left behind while guarding their unit. Each has a battle partner: Heath and Fizer; Santiago and Zeller; and Cooper and the narrator, Josh Stanz. Josh and Cooper are the quiet members of the group. Cooper, a native of the occupied country who fled to America as a child with his grandparents after his parents had been murdered, is known throughout the unit for being a religious virgin devoted to a girl at home. Josh is more introspective, cursed with a nervous stomach, an active guilty conscience and a fervent desire to get home safely and make it to college. While on guard, Santiago and Zeller open fire on a group in the building, who turn out to be unarmed children. Justifiably fearing retribution, the group moves, but not before Cooper is shot by enemy fire. Cooper’s death is poignantly unceremonious and unsentimental, as is most of the novel. The soldiers debate about his remains and use his food and water, and all are forced to accept the loss with little emotion. The soldiers continue to move, occasionally linking up with locals for various purposes (in Santiago and Zeller’s cases, usually casual sex). Josh finds a brief kinship with a man named Michael, and in one conversation, they illuminate the mysteries of modern warfare—is it possible, as Josh claims, that America is actually losing lives in, and taking lives from, this country to be of help? Eventually, after collecting countless physical and emotional wounds and nearly succumbing to hunger and dehydration, the group is reunited with their compatriots, which is when they learn that they have only just been listed as missing. In such novels as The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien perfected the art of nuanced war fiction. Eck follows in his footsteps, emphasizing not the drama of the soldier’s ordeal, but the painstaking, spirit-breaking, heart-wrenching details.
A harrowing work that conveys chaos, confusion and raw fear.