Unlike the beloved Commandant’s Reading List, we here at OAF Nation feel one’s reading level is determined more by grey matter and curiosity—not things like the officer/enlisted distinction… or for how many years you’ve sat in on sexual harassment briefs.
Therefore, introducing our brand new segment—OAF Hitter Reading List—we bring you Redeployment, a collection of fictional stories as well as the 2014 winner of just about every book award there out there.
Good for officer, enlisted, and civilian alike. Due to its success, combined with the time that has passed since initial publication, it is very likely you have read this book. For those that haven’t, however, here’s a few reasons why we feel you should.
There’s no other way to put it without being dishonest—I wanted to hate the book when I bought it. Maybe due to that old justifiable suspicion: that anything lavishly praised in the popular military genre has out-promoted the emotionally/intellectually honest stuff with Buzzword, There I Was Propaganda. That or cry baby lyrics to tickle the chode of the quivering over-sympathetic types. Yeah, those were both why—before cracking it open. I tried to hate it, but failed miserably.
In a sentence; author and former Marine officer, Phil Klay, didn’t waste a penny earning his Master in Fine Arts. Though arguably the lay-out of a book shouldn’t determine its pull, readability, or both, one quickly sees that Klay has wrought a flowing work assisted by terse language and short wiry paragraphs. And while the delivery has a firing-pen exactness to it, the emotional range is vast.
For me it was the chaplain story. Won’t throw out at any spoilers, but may get a bit close:
While we sometimes live vicariously through others who’ve experienced things we haven’t, what we ingest and call entertainment resonates the most when it hits close to home. Religion is a topic that will somehow surface on any social media feed or YouTube video. In the military; 4am talks around a Humvee, every atheist in the squad bombarding the Pentecostal kid—whether comparing and contrasting Christianity and Islam, whether for or against one or all, seeking faith or just quoting Sam Harris—religious (un)truth and its role in world history are cans opened again and again.
Klay’s depiction of religion’s deeply embedded and occasionally awkward role in the US military is masterful. Knee deep in a subject matter where it’s so easy to grab low-hanging fruit, instead we see a thoughtful unfolding that puts some of us in the position of the conflicted, and gives us the ability to choose for ourselves from that position. Some more than others, but we all have at least one evangelical acquaintance as well as that always-reminding-you atheist. If you grew up in a similar religious household as yours truly, and if your experiences and interests majorly altered your preexisting beliefs—then I am confident you’ll at least partially agree ‘Prayer in the Furnace’ is a story that taps into some deep places.
Another enjoyable facet of the book is it possesses the key ingredient in what seems to distinguish the The Things They Carried works from the [insert ghost-written war porn here]. With Redeployment we see who fought the wars are as complex and interesting as the wars themselves. Character contradictions, language, and motivations, as far as military books go; top 2%. Only Pulitzer-winning autobiographies like Fortunate Son reach a higher shelf.
Klay’s psychological range has been lauded—and rightfully so. My only wish is he had used in a more direct way the aggressive, dare I say “sociopathic”, personalities we see (or are) while in the military. It speckles the backdrop fine, but with this author’s patient ability to get into other people’s shoes and head, I believe Klay was capable of providing a unique and important contribution.
Though it skims in a few times toward saccharine, the work really makes accessible the emotional terrain and all the awaiting Catch 22’s many deployed military face. Beyond the bootish tendency to be frustrated the world hasn’t stopped turning while you put yourself in harm’s way, to the effect of deployment on relationships, to marrying morality with the necessity to kill— through fictional characters a reader unfamiliar with such things gets an imperfect but worthwhile shining glimpse.
Less shiny, but perfectly accurate: descriptions of Camp Lejeune and surrounding areas. There is humor in this book. Make no mistake about it. Even if it wasn’t intended.
Redeployment really takes someone back if they’ve been to the places and gone through the rituals described. For those who don’t have that luxury, they can rest confident the scenery and feeling is pretty dead nuts.
And perhaps most attractive of all; while not padding the gloves by omitting harsh language and sexuality, Klay intertwined art with commentary and honored a culture and institution without having to ignore anything about it. That quality a read is why we are officially placing Redeployment in the Hitter’s Reading List.
Enjoy. Comment. Contribute.
—David Rose (AKA Mr. Blonde)