Flashes of War
House/Loyola University, Maryland
A disclaimer: I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of reviewing a
book of short stories about war. I’ve read many War Stories, truth and
fiction, good and bad, old and new, and I am by now pretty much “over
it.” And War Stories by someone who’s never been to war? A first book
of War Stories? A hard sell.
And so I opened Katey Schultz’s Flashes
of War with a sigh of
resignation and a tinge of resentment.
And I didn’t close it until I finished.
Katey Schultz has an actor’s ability to slip into the skin of her
character. This gives her stories the texture of authenticity. If I
were a more recent veteran, perhaps I could find the odd note that
doesn’t fit with the real-life experience—but I’m not, and she
convinces me that she knows the truth of the worlds she travels.
These worlds are far-flung and complicated, and her reach is ambitious.
She inhabits soldiers and military families, Afghanis and Iraqis, women
and men, and she does it deftly. There are occasional awkward
moments—for example, “Into Pure Bronze,” the story of two boys playing
soccer in Kabul Stadium, feels somewhat timid and overthought to me—but
these are rare; overall, I felt she got the anger, confusion, crassness
and despair of her characters right in the human sense, the sense that
matters in storytelling. By doing this, she reveals a truth beyond
Schultz’s shortest stories are clear, economical and profound. A
soldier’s ambivalence about the mission (“Pressin’ the
Flesh”), an Afghan woman’s bitterness amid the destruction of her city
(“With the Burqa”), the sadism of a training sergeant (“I Told Them”),
the cacophonic stew of family, culture and gender in wartime
Afghanistan (“Sima Couldn’t Remember”)—all this and more comes through
in small, brilliant…well, yes: flashes.
Schultz doesn’t preach; she
gives her characters the pulpit through their thoughts and actions. I
feel these flash pieces are phenomenal, the most affecting stories in
That’s not to say that Schultz’s longer works aren’t worthy literature.
One of my favorite stories, “The Ghost of Sanchez,” runs
eleven-and-a-half pages. Another even longer piece, “The Quiet Kind,”
is laced with insight about the cost of war to the spirit of the
warrior. For example: “He hikes a little further and considers shooting
the squirrels but decides against it. He never liked killing. Until
joining the Army, he never realized that what a man believes could be
so far from what a man does.”
This is fine writing, unraveling complexity by teasing out a string
here, then another, examining each as a simple thought, statement,
deed. Flashes of War
is not a perfect book, but it is a damned good
collection, never mind first collection, and it is too enjoyable to be
condemned to a genre as dreary as War Stories.
These are People Stories. Read them.
|Copyright © 2013 Susan O'Neill