The corrosive psychological effects—and the dark humor—of modern conflict are hauntingly captured in Iraq War veteran Pitre's powerfully understated debut.
Named after a procedure by which Marine convoys maintain the proper distance from a possible roadside bomb, the novel moves in oddly unsettling rhythms between present-day New Orleans, where members of a bomb-defusing unit uneasily reunite, and Iraq, where they had to contend not only with lethal potholes and a nebulous enemy, but also Blackwater-like contractors who couldn't care less about their well-beings. At the heart of the novel is a gangsta rap–loving, increasingly vocal Iraqi translator nicknamed Dodge, who goes to work for the Americans even as his father and brother plot to kill them—not because they hate them but as a way of hastening their exits from the country. Pitre, who served two tours in Iraq, uses his superior powers of observation and empathy to maximum effect; he knows he doesn't have to overdramatize sudden deaths and betrayals and PTSD. And though Dodge's ongoing study of Huckleberry Finn provides metaphoric weight, Pitre plays down his literary aims in favor of a straightforward, even-keeled narrative. Among the many memorable scenes is one in which Lt. Pete Donovan, his nerves already stretched to the max, upbraids a callow young private security officer in an air-conditioned Suburban for exposing his heat-stricken men to a leaking stockpile of toxic chemicals. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Donovan; his drug-addicted fellow Marine, Doc; and Dodge. Though the narrative voices of Donovan and Doc sometimes blend together, and the scenes on the homefront, where Donovan gets a job with a money management firm, are a bit undercooked, those are minor flaws in a book in which everything rings so unshakably true.
A war novel with a voice all its own, this will stand as one of the definitive renderings of the Iraq experience.