Book Review: Redeployment by Phil Klay

phil-klay

I mentioned Redeployment in my previous post but it deserves a full book review so here it is.

According to Amazon, I bought this book in December 2014 after it won the National Book Award (because I love buying those books with every intention of reading them) but apparently, I forgot I did. It wasn’t until I got the audiobook a few weeks ago that I realized I did have the ebook. I just couldn’t remember which platform since I alternate my reading between Kindle, iBooks, Audible, and Scribd. But I finally found both versions and started reading a few weeks ago.

Redeployment by Phil Kay is a collection of short stories about the Iraq War.  it’s unflinchingly raw, unforgiving, and powerful. It’s listed under fiction but as a layperson with no army experience whatsoever (I probably did formation once or twice as part of ROTC during my senior year in high school before they sent me to the office afterward to do flyers), I could swear every word I read felt so real. And that’s probably because Klay is a former Marine and he wrote the stories as a way to process what happened.

There are twelve stories in this collection and the first one, Redeployment, got to me right away. It’s about a Marine who had to shoot dogs in Iraq because they were eating corpses. When he gets back, he wrestles with what to do with his faithful dog who’s grown too old.

The second story, Frago, recounts one Army Sergeant’s mission that lands them inside a house with two tortured Iraqis and a video that ran out of film just before they got there.

Real quiet he says, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. But we all know what this is. Lance Corporal McKeown looks at the camera and says, Al-Qaeda makes the worst pornos ever.

All the stories are powerful and a few that stood out the most to me were Bodies, narrated by a Mortuary Affairs Marine.

There are two ways to tell the story. Funny or sad. Guys like it funny, with lots of gore and a grin on your face when you get to the end. Girls like it sad, with a thousand-yard stare out to the distance as you gaze upon the horrors of war they can’t quite see. Either way, it’s the same story.

Psychological Operations is probably the second longest short story in the book and I almost gave up on it. It’s one of the reasons I like listening to the narration sometimes because it puts me right back into the story, although the opposite works as well. When I find myself drifting while listening to the narration, I go back to reading the text so I’m right back in. Anyway, Psychological Operations took a long time to get to its point but when it did, I was horrified in a way a story gets to its conclusion and you say, wow.

“Propaganda is sophisticated,” I said. “It’s not just pamphlets and posters. As a PsyOps specialist, as anything in the Army, you’re part of a weapons system. Language is a technology. They trained me to use it to increase my unit’s lethality. After all, the Army’s an organization built around killing people. But you’re not like an infantryman. You can’t think about the enemy as nothing but an enemy. A hajji. A gook. A bad guy needing a bullet. You’ve got to get inside their heads.”

And then there’s Ten Kliks South, the last story in the collection as told through the eyes of a 19-year-old artilleryman who wonders who cleans up the mess after he and the rest of his nine-man team are done with their job.

So there’s no indication here of what happened, though I know ten kliks south of us is a cratered area riddled with shrapnel and ruined buildings, burned-out vehicles and twisted corpses. The bodies. Sergeant Deetz had seen them on his first deployment, during the initial invasion. None of the rest of us have.

Bottom line, I loved the collection. I needed a break from all the romance books I started but never finished and so I needed something that got me back into my reading groove, one that I’d actually finish because it hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I also have to accept that the stuff I write is so far from the stuff I like to read. And this is one of them.

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