I'd read good things about this story collection. Then the book won...what did it win? Pulitzer? National Book Award? Something big. But, anyway, I was listening along and thinking, "Nothing new here. The usual post-war lives of soldiers and Marines." Then I got to Prayer in the Furnace.
Prayer is told by a Navy Chaplain who served in Iraq. He worked on a Marine Corps base and the Marine infantry was reluctant to speak to him. Going to see a psychologist about Combat Stress was a career and status killer. Men could speak to a Chaplain and avoid those perceptions but many would still resist. Chaplain collected the "To Any Marine" care packages in his office. Men could go in, get some candy, and use the excuse to talk.
Chaplain starts hearing the worries of several Marines from the same platoon. The platoon commander is an ass and unwilling to change his tactics and methods. Men are sent out to needlessly draw fire. There are hints that war crimes may be happening. Chaplain goes up the chain of command with several concerns and nothing changes. All Chaplain can do is console. He feels ineffective and during a tough sermon tells his congregation he quotes Wilfred Owen and says, "We are a part of a long tradition of suffering. We can let is isolate us if we want, but we must realize that isolation is a lie."
Prayer is outside the usual war and post-war fiction I've read before. I've read stories by civilians who are on the outside looking but Chaplain is straddles the line. He is both inside and outside. He's a Navy Officer but his rank has little power. He's on base and working an important job but his influence only lasts as long as his advice is accepted. The Chaplain's advice cannot keep Marines alive or guide them when to shoot. "'You're a priest', he'd said,'what can you do?'"
War Stories has two veterans, one of them terribly burned, meeting with two women. War Stories touches on things addressed in this collections other stories and also in What They Cannot Say. Why do you tell stories?
- What stories do you tell and when? Are you looking to get laid, cut down an anti-war person, look tough to other guys, cadge free drinks?
- How are stories told? With humor or sorrow?
- What reaction do you want from the listener? Do you care what they think? Will all reactions make you angry?
- Which story is appropriate? Look sad as you tell a story about dead babies and you may be a hit with women.
- What stories don't you tell? Which ones are too painful? Too confusing?
1. Not everyone has PTSD.
2. Most everyone has some bad memories.
3.Going into a country and forcing change doesn't work, no matter how much money you spend. Odd how politics in the U.S. says government cannot create jobs, but the exact opposite policy was followed overseas.
4.Civilians always get it in the neck.
5. Did you hear about those new corduroy pillows? They're making headlines.