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Review: Redeployment by Phil Klay



Highlights: "Redeployment" and "Bodies" should be required reading. If you aren't a short story person, at least check out these two; they are truly wonderful.
Synopsis: Twelve short stories make up Phil Klay's debut collection. Each story tells the story of a person involved in the Iraq War effort. Some stories veer toward civilian difficulties, while others tend to focus on battlefield dilemmas. Guilt, fear, love, and death are among the themes the stories explore.



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The dialogue is spectacular, as is the overall style of writing. Each story has multiple layers, and they are wonderful in their complexities.


The last couple of stories are not quite as strong as the first few.

Posted June 2, 2014 by

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“So it’s 50 percent boredom and 49 percent normal terror, which is a general feeling that you might die at any second and that everybody in this country wants to kill you. Then, of course, there’s the 1 percent pure terror, when your heart rate skyrockets and your vision closes in and your hands are white and your body is humming. You can’t think. You’re just an animal, doing what you’ve been trained to do. And then you go back to normal terror, and you go back to being a human, and you go back to thinking.”

Literature, as with almost all art, has trends. While it’s still a relatively new and sensitive topic, the Iraq (and Afghanistan) War is slowly becoming one of the more popular topics in bookstores. It’s also becoming one of the most reliable brilliant genres of literary fiction. Recent novels by Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), Joshua Henkin (The World Without You), and Kevin Powers (The Yellow Birds) are proof of such achievement. 2014 brings a new addition to the growing list of classic war fiction: Phil Klay’s Redeployment.

Redeployment is Phil Klay’s masterful debut short story collection. Told in various settings, from America to Iraq and Afghanistan, Klay presents 12 short stories with different characters and conflicts. Each story stands apart from the next. Klay’s juxtaposition of the various dialogues is flawless, as is his presentation of Everyman themes. Guilt, faith, longing, isolation, fear, and love all appear. Survival, though, is the essential theme throughout Redeployment.

In “Bodies,” survivalism appears early. The teenage narrator must learn to make it alone. During his service, there are other people physically around him, but his job is intrapersonal. He collects the dead. He has to cope with what he sees and ultimately break free from it all by himself. When he gets back home, he has a similar dilemma. He doesn’t know how to relate. The young man admits, “For a long time I was angry. I didn’t want to talk about Iraq, so I couldn’t tell anybody I’d been. And if people knew, if they pressed, I’d tell them lies.” His girlfriend can’t bear to give herself to him. He resorts to going to a bar to find a connection, and that, too, fails. He doesn’t give up; instead, he chooses to move ahead. Klay’s writing is powerful in “Bodies,” and it would be the best in the collection if it weren’t for “Redeployment.”

“Redeployment,” which, like “Bodies,” focuses on a soldier’s fight in his homeland rather than the battlefield, is devastating. The narrator comes home to his wife, Cheryl, and dog, Vicar, but nothing is the same as when he left. The people around him no longer are simply people; instead, they are uninformed, privileged Americans. These types are “people who have no idea where Fallujah is” and “people who’ve spent their whole lives at white.” Additionally, when the narrator goes shopping for new clothes, he can’t nonchalantly walk around. He remembers the dangers in Iraq and applies them to his American surroundings. He sees dressing rooms differently; windows aren’t the same. Now, fear is present. Vicar stands as the story’s ultimate symbol. He is sick. He’s old. He’s been through more than a life should have to endure. When Cheryl suggests that a veterinarian put the dog down, the soldier finds himself with a job to carry out with dignity and precision, two things he brought back from Iraq. It’s here that he finds a complicated sense of comfort; it’s here that he realizes that he must carry on.

There are many scenes throughout Redeployment that will cause shock. Others will trigger laughter. Some will initiate tears. The stories here are about a soldier’s life and a civilian’s life—they are about all of us. Phil Klay’s debut collection is a must-read for anyone who fights for America or lives in it. It’s a beauty.

Review: Redeployment by Phil Klay 5.00/5 (100.00%) 3 votes

Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides is a graduate of the M. A. in English program from the University of North Alabama. His fiction appears in Belle Rêve Literary Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, Freedom Fiction Journal, Inwood Indiana, and Used Gravitrons. He is a contributor to Bookkaholic. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is actively seeking representation for his debut middle-grade novel.


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