A glimpse of the war in Iraq, as told by the acclaimed author of The King of Kings County (2005) and The Huntsman (2001).
As this novel begins, Lt. Emma Fowler is leading her platoon on a recovery mission. Sgt. Carl Beale is already dead; her team is trying recover his corpse. Beneath the veneer of confidence necessary to command, Fowler is plagued by doubts and anxieties—about the interrogation methods used to locate Beale’s body, about the probable connection between such abuses and the betrayal that led to Beale’s death, about signal officer Dixon Pulowski and whether or not she can trust him to keep quiet about the possibility of torture, about the probability of keeping her lover—Pulowski again—safe during this mission….And then everything really goes to hell. Terrell is a journalist as well as a novelist. He was an embedded reporter between 2006 and 2010, and he covered the war in Iraq for the Washington Post Magazine, Slate, and NPR. Clearly, he has an informed perspective on this particular conflict, and anyone who has read his previous fiction will be inclined to trust him as a narrator. This makes his latest novel all the more baffling. From the very beginning, it’s difficult to understand what’s happening where and when and why. And this isn’t just fog-of-war-style confusion. Even outside the action, it’s difficult for the reader to find his or her bearings. For example, even before the first chapter reaches its awful conclusion, it’s already confusing: what’s the relationship between Fowler’s platoon and a patrol already on duty there? Is it important that Pulowski is installing cameras at this rural location? Are the cameras as important as the recovery of Beale’s body? Are they more important? Terrell’s choice to create a narrative that moves backward in time means that readers have to carry these questions with them as they read and hope for answers. As a metaphor for the latest Gulf War, this might make sense. But it makes for a very challenging novel.
Informed witness; overly complicated storytelling.