Redeployment: Snapshots of war; snapshots of experience

Redeployment  is startling from its opening sentence: “We shot dogs” to the moment the metaphorical and the literal smokes clears in the final line, “where the silence, the stillness, would end.”

Redeployment  is a collection of 12 stories composed by Phil Klay. Klay was awarded the National Book Award for this compilation. I read this work in February to prepare for Klay’s campus visit, private workshop and public reading. I desperately wanted to review this book when I first picked it off the shelf a month or so before Klay’s visit. I decided against reviewing this text immediately in favor of allowing the startling images and disquieting diction to sink in. I am definitely glad I did not review this book after my first reading. Distance has granted me the ability to know I have not judged a book by its cover and my initial feelings of admiration towards this work have not faded or are not unfounded.

Most texts can be admired or defined by a single element or theme they strive to portray and portray well. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird is a revelation on race relations. The Great Gatsby showcases the decline of the fundamental American dream and 1984 warns against the ideology of a totalitarian system. It can be stated that Redeployment is primarily a work concerned with the fate of soldiers.

Classifying the work as war vignettes is not incorrect but slightly inaccurate. However, this novel covers most elements literary works try to showcase, ranging from family, race, religion, war and peace, while focusing on the plights and triumphs of the enlisted. Creating a novel which touches on various themes and subject matter is no easy task but Klay achieves this feat through the structure of short stories. Redeployment consists of 12 short stories effectively standing on their own, while overall complementing the consistent theme of showcasing the varying emotions of the enlisted.

Having served himself as a U.S. Marine Corps Public Affairs Officer in Iraq, Klay is able to construct profound individual works and a concise and meaningful collection that focuses on enlisted life. As a veteran, Klay is able to animate the emotions of his fellow soldiers through their character portrayal which would otherwise have gone unexperienced or unacknowledged.

The amazing aspect of the text is each short story illustrates a different race, religion or value of a different soldier through each varying voice within the text. Further illustrating no two people possess the same experiences; not all soldiers experience the same elements of war. Sometimes I feel as a culture we struggle to understand the varying experiences of those who fight and defend our rights because of war’s brutality. If we do not acknowledge societal or in this case, war’s unpleasantries than they simply do not exist.

Redeployment allows the reader to view those enlisted and veteran personnel by the soldiers’ experiences whether they are pleasing or disagreeable. Klay does not compose a character who is defined by the experiences of those around him/her. A character maybe influenced by the actions of others but these actions are not confined as the same occurrence. No one character in Klay’s work has a monopoly on human experience.

Just as each story functions as both a separate entity and as a whole, so does each character. Klay’s text showcases no one person, who serves their country, feels, loves or reacts the in the same matter. Redeployment demands each fictional character and their experiences remain separate and therefore, each actual soldier demands respect for their individual experiences.

While Klay and his characters demand respect, Klay does not gloss over the unpleasantries I spoke of previously. I remember very vividly during both Klay’s private workshop and his public reading, several questions from students and audience member asking if Klay thought his striking images and sometimes profanity laden sentences pushed too many boundaries. I also recall Klay’s answer each time someone inquired about his startling words. He stated, “These aspects deserve to be thought about because people carry these things with them.” No matter the startling diction and the staggering images, Redeployment deserves to be read and discussed as the text brings to life moments soldiers will carry with them long after they leave a warzone. Nothing within this text is sugarcoated and the reader is fully plunged into the physical and psychological world of a soldier; a world they never expected.  Many could find Klay’s diction a reason to be offended and throw down Redeployment. Redeployment is too powerful and too real to be ignored.

Personally, three of the short stories that I felt contain the most poignant sentiments are: “After Action Report,” “Bodies” and “Ten Klicks South.” I challenge everyone to read Redeployment and not to be deeply affected by the experiences portrayed in this text. As academia and the reading public look to define the most recent cannon of literature, Redeployment looks to become the cornerstone.