Last updated on November 11th, 2016Phil Klay, the author of Redeployment, the highly acclaimed collection of short stories and the 2014 National Book Award winner, was stationed in Al Anbar Province in Iraq from January 2007 to February 2008. This was a year known as the “surge,” when President George W. Bush ordered an additional 20,000 troops to Baghdad and Al Anbar.
As a Public Affairs Officer in the United States Marine Corps, Klay must have absorbed the Iraqi war from a variety of perspectives, as can be seen in the twelve stories that comprise Redeployment. Whether it is the opening story “Redeployment” or the final story “Ten Kliks South,” the stories are suffused with the language of war—MRAPs, IEDs, shrapnel, snipers, howitzers, corpses—and, if not this language, then the language of the dissolving self as soldiers try to assimilate to civilian life after they return to the States. When they are asked what they did in the war, they answer, “We shot dogs. Not by accident.” Or as they interact with their wives, girlfriends, or children, they try to be, well, “normal,” even though some will suffer symptoms of PTSD.
Memories of war do not go away for these soldiers. It is not difficult to see why, as the ritual of the fallen soldier is described in the last paragraph of “Ten Kliks South,” the final story in the collection: “And as it was unloaded off the bird, the Marines would have stood silent and still, just as we had in Fallujah. And they would have put it on a C-130 to Kuwait. And they would have stood silent and still in Kuwait. And they would have stood silent and still in Germany, and silent and still at Dover Air Force Base. Everywhere it went, Marines and sailors and soldiers and airmen would have stood at attention as it traveled to the family of the fallen, where the silence, stillness, would end.”
Most of these stories are difficult to take in because of the human suffering on all sides. But Klay gives the reader a small break: His style sometimes allows for tentative relief, but then the visceral language of war grips the heart.