First off let me make this clear, this is not a DNF because this is a bad story, it is purely a personal preference with the writing technique and certain storylines that I struggle with. These short stories are written as first person and second-person narrative. Unless it's done really well, that break of the fourth wall does not work for me personally. I have not read a lot of second-person narrative and this took a while to get used to, and honestly is a major reason I didn’t persevere. I need to make this clear though, the writing is beautiful. It’s very descriptive and poetic and it was easy to get lost in the words being written.
However, the other reason I threw in the towel, and this one is a biggie, is that each of the stories I read were hardly romances at all, and each were seriously fucking depressing. I only read three, but I’m pretty sure I was ready to commit group suicide with these characters by the end of them. I’m going to add the mini reviews I wrote as I was reading and the rating I was going to give the individual stories, so you have more of an idea why I gave up.
Phew that one hurt! What a beautifully written and wonderfully sad story about two men and the war that came between them. This was written in first person point of view, so we only ever know the characters as 'I’ (the narrator) and ‘You’ (the narrator's soldier lover). This tells the story about two lovers, and how they handle the need to be closeted while in the army and the eventual deployment of the soldier. This story shows the pain of the spouses left behind, especially in a time when being gay meant you couldn’t acknowledge your grief for your partner leaving. It also captured the soldiers dedication to his duty and his country.
It was heart-wrenching to read and I know this might be a spoiler, but there was no HEA, which I was really hoping for.
...hmm, that's it?
That ended much sooner than I was expecting. This story was written in second person narrative (as I understand it). We are told the story of an ex soldier who is a ‘casualty assistance officer’. His job is to inform the families of the men who are MIA or have died at war. When he goes to deliver the news of a dead soldier to a widow, we hear her views on what it is like to be a war-wife. She describes the bitterness and pain of what it feels like to be second choice to a man’s duty and honour. Once again it was wonderfully written, I felt her pain and understood her anger.
I thought there would be more because it is mentioned the casualty officer was gay and he had yet to bring himself to think about finding a man to settle down with, but ultimately it was something that he wanted. I guess I was expecting some follow up on his thoughts of wanting to find a man, but nothing….. It just ended after the woman’s monologue.
Fuck! Another depressing one. I don’t think I can handle much more of this, that was… really depressing. This one was first person with the narrator and his husband organising to get some cocaine from a friend of theirs. At first I thought this would be a cool drug dealing story, but then suddenly a few weeks had passed and they had snorted most of it. They were in debt and coming down from their high... hard. The story then progressed to show them attempting to avoid slipping back into the drug habit and failing… miserably.
Honestly I was lost for a large portion of this story. This was written with short sharp sentences that didn’t always make a lot of sense, and jumps in time that confused me. Essentially it was written like someone who was on drugs, which was clever, but ultimately very confusing.
The light is just right, behind our heads, so our shadow on the wall is the eight-armed goddess Kali, a single thick body sporting two pair of mechanically moving arms, massage, massage, chop, chop, chop, pass the blade and dollar bill, watch the bangs, honk, honk.
Once again no HEA.
As you can see, I had a steady decline in my ratings, I think that indicated my brain turning into a depressive ball of emotions. I think if I had continued I would’ve rated this book poorly and I didn’t want to do that, so I figured, better quit while i’m ahead (and not curled in a fetal position on the floor).
All I can really suggest is to know what you’re getting into with this book. Don’t read it for a romantic military story. Read it for a realistic take on the pain of war, addictions and whatever the other stories end up being about. If you can get used to the writing style, the words are very beautiful and will definitely evoke emotions in many people. I just can’t do stories that depressing.
A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.
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Scott D. Pomfret is the author of Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir, The Second Half: A Gay American Football Novel, and dozens of short stories in literary and not-so-literary journals. With his longtime partner Scott Whittier, he is coauthor of the Romentics series of gay romance novels and the Q Guide to Wine and Cocktails. Scott and Scott reside in Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Your head was full of sacred places like land mines, IEDs on the roadside of our conversation. Every once in a blue moon, you lapsed into a moment of particular silence (as opposed to your garden variety clamped-mouthedness) while some procession in your head passed that only you saw or heard. You woke me up at midnight with a knife at my throat and demanded in Arabic to see my pass.
You talked about the first tour exactly once. Your tone was so reverential that we were instantly in a chapel full of incense and sweat and raw knees and desperation. You said that Iraqi hospitals were filthy and overrun by the limbless. You said how strange it was to hear the ka-chunk of chambered rounds in this place where civilization began. You mentioned the twenty-year-old soldier under your command who took some shrapnel and begged you to just not let him die. You held his hand and pretended that a grown man had not pissed himself. You helped him die.
I knew it was wrong, but some puny, twisted, black part of my soul was jealous of the dying soldier. Jealous of every man and woman you met on that first tour, because they are in some inviolate place in your head I must not go—a mausoleum.
Though I knew I shouldn’t, and I knew it drove you crazy, I could not help myself. I asked over and over, “Do you really want to go back to that?”
You kept saying, “This is what soldiers do.”
I seized you. I shook you. At first, you let me have my way. Then you grew bored, pried me loose, threw me to the bed, and took a position by the window. You scanned the perimeter. You seemed to need an imaginary sniper out there on West Twelfth Street that you could take out. Nothing else would calm your nerves.
“Do you really want to go back to that?” I asked again.
“Do you really want—”
You jumped across the room, pushed me to the wall, and drew back your fist. Now, you grew up in a home where your daddy hit you and your mother. You fought back from time to time, and you lost and got bloodied, and yet made your daddy proud that he had a son who was full of spunk and going to grow up into a real man one day. You swore you would never be such a man yourself. But we often swear to go in one direction and the next moment chart a course toward another end entirely. So you bulked up on protein, lifted your weights, joined the service, and learned martial arts. You filled yourself with flint and fire, piss and vinegar, stoking a hair-trigger temper with too many days of mortar fire and too many nights on patrol.
“Ever consider taking yoga?” I asked. “That might make it simpler to avoid becoming your dad.”
Good and evil warred in your face. I was on the front lines. You struck the wall next to my head. You released me on the brink of being the kind of man you did not want to be.
“I love you,” I said.
“More dangerous than Ali Baba set loose in the souk with a bomb strapped to his chest.”
“I love you.”
“You’re saying that to make me stay.”
“No. I really love you.”
“Yes. Just to make me stay.”
“OK. Yes,” I snapped. “Will you stay?”
You looked away. You muttered, “My country needs me.”
When you and I first met those fifteen months ago outside the chow hall, I prepared myself for a short life on the down low. I figured secrecy was another one of these inevitable humiliations of homosexuality, the price one pays for finding a good man. Someday no doubt, I’d stalk away in disgust, crushed and proud, full of dignity, and lonely as hell.
But the down low was not your MO. From that very first day when you dared to speak to me in front of your men, you never shied away from me. You introduced me only by name. You did not explain me. You did not label me. You did not encourage questions. Your quiet was ominous. Your medals were a dare. Ditto your stars and bars, your aviator glasses. They all mutely challenged each soldier in the platoon to utter a goddamn word of objection.
Conversations dried up. Tongues went still. Words failed. You were as ramrod straight as you ever were. You nodded, saluted, and asked, “Isn’t this a fine day, gentlemen?”
Their faces became blank and unreadable. Their eyes searched beyond me. They were looking at a tomorrow without me, a day when your betrayal could be forgotten and your sins forgiven. They were like a squad of soldiers who agreed to pretend a pitched battle in the fog of war, that leaves blood on your hands and men you loved splitting open a child’s head with a gun stock or shooting a mother point-blank, never happened. They were looking toward a simpler and more moral time, when men could be expected to act according to the laws that God had made.
Not that the men ever looked down on you. They still jumped when you barked, which gave me a thrill, a delight in your power and a laugh at their expense. But you took it deadly serious. You expected nothing less. Your men owed you this obedience, just as you owed them the obligation of leadership.
Maybe I should have been proud of your stubborn refusal to pretend I did not exist. But this middle ground, somewhere between coming and going, between sunshine and shade, between closet and freedom, ultimately proved intolerable. My delight was always short-lived. Every road leads to war.