In Hutson’s (Topeka, Ma ’shuge, 2014) novel, a soldier returns home, haunted by memories of war, and tries to track down family members he’s never known.
Robert Kent served as a sniper in Afghanistan, rising to the rank of master sergeant before he was discharged after some 15 years of service. Now he finds himself in a veteran’s hospital, alone and plagued by memories of past violence, emotionally lost but not yet ready to surrender to despair. Dr. Zilker, his preternaturally patient therapist, prods him to discuss the last day of his tour of duty in Afghanistan, during which he was involved in a ferocious firefight and badly wounded. Over the course of three tours, he was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star Medal, but they provide him with no relief from his nightmares. Before he enlisted, he had a difficult childhood—he never knew his Vietnam-veteran father, and his mother drank herself to death when he was 15. He was taken in by a foster family, the Dunhams, in his teens. At Zilker’s encouragement, Robert decides to track down his surviving relations, aided by little more than his parents’ names and letters that his father wrote to his mother while serving overseas. Hutson palpably depicts Robert’s longing to get to know his family members, and, by extension, his desire to discover something new about himself: “now I was going to get to turn over all the pieces on the game board.” The author’s prose artfully balances a poetical sensitivity with the gritty anger of his protagonist. Also, his descriptions of military life—and of combat, in particular—feel impressively authentic. The novel’s chief source of strength, however, is the author’s literary restraint; it’s a study in the raw power of unsentimental expression, as well as an extension of Robert’s wounded laconicism. The book offers a sensitive look at the psychological ramifications of combat, raising tough questions without offering facile answers.
A poignant dramatization of the emotional fallout of war.