of the Brave, Stories in Uniform
edited by Jeffery Hess
Winner, The Military Writers
Society of America Gold Medal for Best
Authors: Mary Akers, Pinckney
Benedict, Zoey Byrd, Tracy Crow, Sarah Davis, Amber Dermont, Doug
Frelke, Valerie Hamilton, Hannah Huber, Gabe Hudson, Kevin Jones, Tim
O’Brien, Robert O’Connor, Bruce Overby, Chris Offutt, Benjamin Percy,
Max Ruback, James Salter, Roman Skaskiw, Peter Schilling, Tom Sheehan,
Kurt Vonnegut, Blaise Weller, Tobias Wolff
Editor: Jeffery Hess served six years in the U.S. Navy
and holds a B.A. from the University of South Florida and an MFA from
Queens University of Charlotte. He’s held writing positions at a major
daily newspaper, a Fortune 500 company, and a university-based research
center. In addition to corporate publications and websites, his writing
has appeared in The Houston Literary
Review, American Skating World, Writer’s Journal, and the Tampa Tribune. He lives in
Florida where he’s completing a novel and leads a creative writing
workshop for military veterans.
"A true war story is
moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models
of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing things men have
always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end
of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of
rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been
made the victim of a very old and terrible lie."
Reviewed by Carol Reid
War is a punch line without a joke. This collection makes no attempt to
glorify, validate or justify war or the toll it takes on those who
serve their country - here, the United States. Bodies, tasks,
fragmentation, sorrow - these are the basic components of most of the
twenty-four stories included in Home
of the Brave, Stories in Uniform.
In the introduction, editor Jeffery Hess explains that the collection
covers the period from World War Two to the current conflicts in Iraq
and Afghanistan and that the stories are placed
"quasi-chronologically". His assurance that the stories "entertain" led
me to search for a dictionary meaning of the word which would encompass
the feeling of powerlessness and pervasive sadness which I felt on
reading many of these fine stories. Certainly they transport the reader
into the experience of the individuals who have found themselves in
training for, in the midst and on the outskirts of combat.
Mary Akers' Comfortably Numb
is masterful in its use of small, telling details. The protagonist of
this story is as ruined and haunted as the hurricane-ravaged Florida
landscape in which the story takes place. What he endured in Vietnam
surfaces in every aspect of his everyday life. He can't drink coffee.
No big deal?
"Can't even smell it now, without getting
anxious in my gut. You know
what a fucking handicap that is? Can't even smell coffee without
freaking out? The whole world drinks
coffee. When I came back, it was the one thing my old man couldn't get
over. I'd served two tours, been a POW, got honorably discharged and he
got stuck on his son being afraid of the smell of coffee. 'It takes a
special kind of pussy to be scared of coffee.' His words."
Stories by Valerie Hamilton, Tracy Crow and Hannah Huber examine the
experience of women in uniform, in different eras. Huber's Week One
presents a desolate portrait of a young, idealistic woman's
transformation into "Candidate Branson" during the first week of her
training to become a Marine. She tries to write a letter to her mother:
"Nothing here can kill you, I want to tell her. It's just a game, Mom.
I describe the barracks, the chow hall and the animated instructors.
Just like the movies, I write. Only we're girls."
It's no surprise that stories by Kurt Vonnegut, Tobias Wolff and
O'Brien are included here. These selections are familiar to many
readers but remain powerful and well worth re-reading.
Vonnegut's D.P. is set in a
German village in the American Zone of
Occupation, and explores the tentative relationship between a group of
American soldiers and an orphaned boy who longs for his largely
imaginary American father. Tobias Wolff's The Other Miller is an
overwhelming chronicle of lost identity and despair.
How to Tell a True
War Story felt like the definitive story of the collection.
narrative slips and slides through memory and invention, the "surreal
seemingness" of the "true war story". This story brought useless tears
to my eyes and just as quickly dried them.