I was going to go with the traditional protest song “War” but then thought this Austin Powers clip delivered the anti-war message just as well through humor.
Through research, imagination, and an empathetic prowess Katey Schultz has provided us with glimpses of basic human desires stunted by war. Flashes of War, her collection of war-based flash fiction and short stories, deftly cuts open the indistinguishable “us-and-them” masks of the combatants to reveal familiar faces.
Reading “Deuce Out”, Katey’s first person narrative about a sister joining her brother on the frontline in Afghanistan, I couldn’t help picturing Hilary Swank as her Million Dollar Baby character telling me the story. It’s her voice I hear and her face I see, wet with sweat from jogging to the bus stop with her brother’s free weights in her backpack. At the recruitment office, it’s her brow and wide lips, responding to the desk sergeant’s questions.
There is a twist at the end of “Deuce Out”. In fact many of Katey’s stories don’t end as expected. “Checkpoint” and “Refugee” are two stories where the endings summoned in me memories of Twilight Zone episodes.
In “Checkpoint” a seasoned Private heads a unit of rookies on checkpoint duty. It reminded me of the famous Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man”, where a misinterpreted signal leads to calamity for the natives.
The story, “Refugee” reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode, “Time Enough At Last”. In that episode, Burgess Meredith portrays a severely nearsighted bank employee who hides in the bank’s underground vault to eat his lunch and indulge in his passion for books. He wishes he had more time to read his books. However, when his wish is granted, he is thwarted by an unexpected loss.
In “Refugee” an Iraqi man narrates his abandonment of his home in Fallujah with his wife and children. He then recounts his days in a refugee camp set up by Doctors without Borders in al-Hadrha before describing his journey back to his home. Needless to say, in true Twilight Zone fashion, he dream of returning to the home he left turns into a nightmare.
In Katey’s stories, just like in the really good episodes of the Twilight Zone, great care is taken to create a shroud of familiarity that when unfurled exposes something unexpected and raw.
Katey has taken the layperson’s understanding of war and gifted it with greater emotional depth. She believably portrays the Middle Eastern experience of war in stories like “Refugee”, “Into Pure Bronze”, and “Aaseya & Rahim”. However, she is much more successful at portraying the lives of the American soldiers and their families.
“Getting Perspective” is intimately told by a young mother recently widow by the war. Her husband has died in combat and she waits for his ashes to arrive in their hometown. Her story offers a record of the private emotional and external social struggles she encounters trying to acclimate to the new world that has resulted from her husband’s death; the new looks from old friends, the new sensitivities, and then managing the potential new beginnings.
If I were to find fault with Katey’s book it would be that there weren’t enough stories like “The Ghost of Sanchez”. But it’s not the story I wanted more of — It’s the characters. All of the Americans she created to tell their war stories were small town (assumably White) boys and girls. Sanchez was the only immigrant who played a prominent role in the stories.
I am confident that there are plenty of Second Generation children serving in the armed services today. The American armed forces is possibly even more culturally and ethnically diverse than a UN General Assembly meeting. So why isn’t this depicted in popular media? Why are these soldiers’ stories not told with the same reverence?
But these are questions for another time. I don’t want to end this review on this note. Flashes of War is a good book that successfully presents a very approachable and sympathetic human “eyewitness” account of war and its human costs.
You can’t really write a post about war and ignore this song.