Home of the Brave, Stories in Uniform

  edited by Jeffery Hess

Press 53, 2009

Website: HomeOfTheBrave

Winner, The Military Writers Society of America Gold Medal for Best Anthology.

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 never 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 Tim 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. O'Brien's 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.

Read a story from this collection on American History 102 (PDF)

Carol Reid is working on a series of artist interviews for the Emprise Review. Artists are just as fun as writers, seriously! She also makes jewelry as a fundraiser in support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation's campaign to encourage awareness in Canada about Africa’s grandmothers and their struggle to secure a hopeful and healthy future for generations of children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

carol's other Short Reviews: "Crimini: The Bitter Lemon Book of Italian Crime Fiction"

"Passport to Crime: The Finest Mystery Stories from International Writers"

Richard Matheson "Button, Button: Uncanny Stories"

Andrew Porter "The Theory of Light and Matter"

Fran Friel "Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales"

Kathy Page "As In Music"

Christopher Fowler "Old Devil Moon"

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If you liked this book you might also like....

Tim O'Brien "The Things They Carried"

Tobias Wolff "In Pharoah's Army: Memories of the Lost War"

Mary Akers "Women Up on Blocks"

Benjamin Percy "Refresh, Refresh"

James Salter "Last Night"

What other reviewers thought:

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