I was intrigued by Redeployment when I heard that it was about the Iraq War. And then, when it won the National Book Award in 2014, my curiosity reached a fever pitch. How could a collection of short stories trump the magnificent Station Eleven or All the Light We Cannot See, both of which I read and LOVED before this book? As it turns out, the committee knew what it was about.
To put it simply, Redeployment is haunting. It is gritty, hard-eyed, and unflinching in its depictions of the Iraq War. Unlike American Sniper‘s apologetic on patriotism and nationalism, Klay focuses on telling the stories of the men and women who find themselves fighting the war. “Redeployment” focuses on a married soldier who’s had to kill dogs eating corpses and then finds himself unable to handle civilian life back home. “Prayer in the Furnace” tells about a chaplain’s highly complex relationships with the Marines, especially after several deaths in the unit. And “Unless It’s a Sucking Chest Wound” recounts a Marine office worker who enters law school, only to find that he cannot shake the complicated past he’d left behind, particularly when one of his friends shows up in New York drunk and mentally shattered.
The writing is not as gorgeous as some of the other nominees. But damn if I wasn’t incredibly moved by the collection. Redeployment tells the war stories we desperately need to hear but are afraid of hearing. The many stories force us to confront the realities of combat and pressures of war, death, and violence. I will be placing as many stories as I can on my teaching roster. I’m also excited to see Phil Klay, a debut writer, making his mark in the literary world. In his National Book Award acceptance speech, he said, “War is too strange to process alone,” and I am glad he is making this perspective known.