Redeployment by Phil Klay
By CURT SWARM
I can’t recall ever reading a book of short stories where the first-person narrator is a different person in each story. Yep, Phil Klay did it. Typically, you’ll see the same person resurfacing throughout a collection, and you look for it, or at least I do. It takes an unbelievable amount of talent to switch perspective 13 different times, but in “Redployment,” Phil Klay does just that. For his talent and gut-gripping tales, he received the National Book Award. It’s his first book.
Not your typical blood-and-guts Iraq/Afghanistan war stories, this book has some real literary meat to it. The stories carry the book, the occasional drop-your-socks prose is a side benefit.
In the first story, “Redeployment,” for which the book is named, the narrator is a Marine enlisted man returning home after his first tour of duty. “We took my combat pay and did a lot of shopping. Which is how America fights back against the terrorists.”
In “FRAGO,” the narrator is an active duty sergeant in Iraq. By the way, “FRAGO” stands for “Fragmentary Order,” which Klay doesn’t define, nor does he define any of the many military acronyms he uses. I had to Google them. But telling a story in undefined acronyms sort of lends itself to the whole feeling of the book in a military/war sort of way.
In “After Action Report,” the narrator is Lance Corporal Suba. Suba is asked to take credit for a “kill” when the soldier who did the shooting can’t own up to it, because the “hajji” was a teenager. Suba talks to the chaplain (“Chaps”), who becomes the narrator in a later story.
In “Bodies,” the narrator is a Mortuary Affair Marine, i.e., a soldier who cleans up bodies after they’re dead.
In “Money as a Weapons System,” the narrator is a Foreign Service Officer. “In Vietnam they had Whores,” the narrator is a sniper, viewing eyes from a thousand meters. In “Psychological Operations,” the narrator is Coptic and an Iraq veteran attending NYU. “There’s a perversity in me, that when I talk to conservatives, makes me want to bash the war and, when I talk to liberals, defend it.”
In “Unless it’s a Sucking Chest Wound,” the narrator is a Marine officer veteran in law school. “...a tick would try to feed off any liquid at the temperature of mammalian blood,” and “You don’t want to be the guy bailing water out of a sinking ship,” and “I don’t have PTSD, but I guess her thinking that I did is part of the weird pedestal vets are on now.”
“In Ten KLIKS South,” the narrator is a Marine Artilleryman. A “klik” is a thousand meters (I had to look it up). Check this out for an opening paragraph: “This morning our gun dropped about 270 pounds of ICM on a smuggler’s checkpoint ten kliks south of us. We took out a group of insurgents and then we went to the Fallujah chow hall for lunch. I got fish and lima beans. I try to eat healthy.”
Through characterization, language, and point-of-view, Phil Klay has written a poignant, gut wrenching set of stories that tell it like it is. I hope he has more stories in him in the future.