In his first published book, “We Come to Our Senses,” Odie Lindsey tells 15 stories about contemporary soldiers and veterans, their families and their friends, all deeply disaffected by war and military life. Some of the stories take place in the Middle East, but much of the drama happens at home. Home for Lindsey, a veteran and a Southerner, is Nashville, Tenn.
Home for Lindsey’s characters is the South – the Carolinas, Mississippi, Tennessee. But no matter what the location is – it’s army training at Fort Bragg, Fort Jackson and Fort Benning that follows these veterans as closely as memories of heartbreak and fear in the Arab desert.
Whether they’re home for good or about to be deployed overseas, these men and women have been scarred and traumatized by war, by the enemy and by other soldiers. The impact of the stories derives from Lindsey’s ability to assume a convincing voice, sometimes a female one.
“Evie M” is told in the credible voice of a female veteran trying to adjust to civilian life. Evie works in manufacturing and while her supervisor claims everyone respects her time in the service, he often hounds her. Although Evie has been treated by a female counselor at the VA, terrible memories still “blitz the surface,” as she recalls seeking comfort among the male soldiers and abandoning herself “when all there was on the horizon was death.”
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Later in “Hers,” Evie appears as a minor character in Riyadh during the first Iraq War. The story reveals the problems that confront men and women serving together in a war zone. It’s told by an unnamed soldier who had been on suicide watch after his fiancée quit writing to him. Though Evie is an incidental character, she may have been raped in her sleep by the narrator who is “pretty sure” he just envisioned the act and stopped.
In the first of the Darla stories called “Darla,” neither Darla nor her nameless boyfriend are veterans but their lives have been affected by a soldier, a “one-night-stand hero” named Brent. Brent transmitted an autoimmune system virus into Darla that has dictated life for Darla and Nameless. The couple struggle to survive. But it’s Darla, not Nameless, who finds a job in the story “Bird (on back).” Not only does Darla’s sickness affect her immune system, it has left her infertile. Nameless is superficially supportive of Darla, but he can’t control his own obsessions about their problems. He sees Brent in every uniformed guy in every war movie or commercial with a soldier.
Finally, Darla comes to her senses about her hapless boyfriend in the book’s title story. After closing down the bar, Nameless and his friends are out on the deck of Willie and Douglass’s house drinking beer and shooting cockroaches. Douglass wants to dump a dead and decaying hound on his ex’s doorstep. When they do, Douglass’s ex, Gina, a veteran, holds a 20-gauge shotgun on the three drunks whom the cops charge with “alcoholic terrorism.” Darla bails her boyfriend out for the last time.
The plights of the characters in these stories are raw and not always easy to take. But the people themselves are often so mercilessly beaten down and flawed that, even if they’re not especially likeable, they, as characters in any good fiction, deserve our pity and our concern and we want to know more about them.
Joseph Peschel, a freelance writer and critic in South Dakota, can be reached at email@example.com or through his blog at http://josephpeschel.com/HaveWords/
“We Come to Our Senses”
By Odie Lindsey
W. W. Norton 224 pages