‘These Heroic, Happy Dead’ by Luke Mogelson

these-heroic-happy-dead-mogelsonThese Heroic, Happy Dead by Luke Mogelson is a collection of stories that unearth the unending terror of war.

Each story follows a protagonist that has had some experience with war, whether a veteran, the mother of war hero turned criminal, or simply someone who knows someone who was once in the war. Though Mogelson does not stick with a single character or plot point, the stories are connected through the emotional verve in which they are steeped. Each character, though unique, shares with every other the universal burden of war, of having seen death or been close enough to feel its effects on someone they love.

Some of the most poignant stories are those that don’t fit into the reader’s inklings of what will happen. In To the Lake, it seems almost too obvious where the story is going, but somehow in the last page, the last paragraph, even the last sentence of the story, Mogelson turns the entire narrative on its head, and what the reader was sure was going to happen is transformed into a completely different representation.

Perhaps the one largest critique of These Heroic, Happy Dead is the profusion of gendered stereotypes throughout the collection. Women only appear as widows, mothers of the main character, or ex-lovers who have fallen out of love with the wounded who have come home. No woman is a main character with her own story unattached to a male. Now woman is a soldier herself or has a validated set of experiences that makes the reader want to know her better.

Nonetheless, These Heroic, Happy Dead is a collection of stories wrought with emotion and dripping with a pervasive sense that something needs to change, that war is not glamorous, and that the damage is brings cannot outweigh our urge as humans to both fight and protect.

Published by Tim Duggan books in June of 2016, These Heroic, Happy Dead by Luke Mogelson is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Valley’ by John Renehan

the-valley-renehanWar is a terrible and terrifying experience no matter the situation, but take crime, drugs, manipulation and scandal and you have a whole new world of terrible and terrifying. That is the exact picture of the war in Afghanistan that John Renehan paints in his novel The Valley. Renehan, a former field officer in Iraq, writes The Valley from an intimate vantage point, though he is clear in stating that he has never visited the places he mentions in the novel and that he depended more on research than on personal experience when it came to the setting.

Though Renehan jumps a bit between characters, the main protagonist in The Valley is Lieutenant Black, a desk officer who is assigned a 15-6, or an investigation. This particular investigation involves a troop that is stationed in the Valley, a mysterious and notoriously dangerous place between the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Black arrives to investigate a stray bullet that was shot in the village by one of the soldiers stationed there. Immediately upon arrival though, things seem a bit out of sorts, and Black slowly begins to unravel the pieces of a well-weaved story.

In a way, Renehan writes The Valley as a mystery novel, dropping clues for the reader to try to figure out the mystery for herself. The mystery, though, is so convoluted and twisted up in other mysteries that it is at times hard to follow who is manipulating who, who is lying, who is the good guy and the bad. But really, these are the lessons of war, the uncertainty bound up in fighting violently with other cultures, with one another, and with ourselves. Renehan is sure to wrap everything up in the end, and in the final pages, the reader is able to sigh a breath of relief: everything makes sense.

Beautifully written, Renehan weaves not only literal poetry into his work, but his writing style in itself is poetic. The mysterious aura of the Valley and of particular characters in The Valley makes the novel an almost ethereal and majestic read at times.

The Valley is Renehan’s first novel, and was nominated for Indie Next List in 2015. The Valley was published in 2015 by Dutton, a Penguin Group publisher.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.