Dead and Deadened

These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories, by Luke Mogelson, (Tim Duggan Books, Random Houe), 192 pages, release date 26 April 2016

I’m lucky to receive electronic review copies of a great many interesting books—but one of the rules that I’ve established for myself is that when one of the electronic review copies turns out to be of five-star quality, I buy it in hardback the day it’s released. Maybe that’s not necessary, but when I find a book that’s truly worth supporting I want to support it—both by blogging and through my personal purchasing power. These Heroic, Happy Dead is one of those books.

These Heroic, Happy Dead falls just shy of being a  novel. Instead it’s a collection of closely related stories tracking the lives of U.S. soldiers and their families, both while the soldiers serve in Afghanistan and after their return to the U.S. The heroic and the happy of the title are both sardonic. While these men may be brave, they aren’t heroes. And they’re certainly not happy.

Luke Mogelson shows us men who have been changed by war—both more detached and more volatile, more rigid and more unsure of what it is they hope for from their lives. The reader feels almost relieved not to be meeting these men in person, but at the same time empathizes with them. They may have been undirected before serving in Afghanistan; that war has now left them completely unmoored.

As these soldiers and ex-soldiers try to main a sot of minimalist existence, their families circle around them like asteroid-shattered planets. There’s the mother who is unaware of both the unthinking violence and the deep regret that live side by side within her son. A teenage son who understands that something is off with his father, but who doesn’t yet have enough experience of the world to understand how very off that off is.

This book is a quick read, but it’s worth taking slowly, letting the stories sink in one at a time, so each has its own full resonance and is more than just one part of a whole. I haven’t been in combat, so I can’t really know how accurate these stories are, but I do know that they overwhelmed me with their mix of tragedy, hope, and impotence in the face of both the world of war and the world at home.

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