Tag Archives: veterans

Cuts Like An Impossible Knife

Laurie Halse Anderson has made a name for herself by writing young adult fiction that tackles difficult topics like rape and eating disorders, to name just a few. Her no-punches-pulled explorations of tough issues have prompted various classroom bans and challenges, which–as challenges usually do–have only increased her popularity, not just among her target audience, but among adults who read YA fiction. Both sets of readers will find the same issue-driven, unflinching prose in Anderson’s latest novel, The Impossible Knife of Memory; what remains to be seen, however, is how her detractors will respond to her theme, which happens to be combat-related PTSD and its effects on not just veterans, but on their families.

Image via USA Today . Click through to read a Q&A with Anderson

Image obtained from USA Today – click through to read a Q&A with Anderson

Since 2001, over 300,000 veterans have been treated for PTSD at an official VA facility. A 2008 Rand report indicates that many more cases go unreported and/or untreated, due to either fear of stigma or access to adequate medical care, with a resulting cost to the U.S. of $6.2 billion. The Impossible Knife of Memory asks the reader to imagine the stories behind the data with one representative portrait of a father and daughter trying to escape their troubled past.

Andy and Hayley Kincain have just moved back to Andy’s hometown after five years of truck driving and homeschooling on the road. This is supposedly to give Hayley some semblance of a normal life, but the bored, bright teenager is not fitting in well with high school and its comparatively restrictive rules. Of course, it’s hard to concentrate in school when you’re constantly worrying about what’s going on at home, and whether you’ll be seeing normal dad, depressed dad, blackout dad, or flashback dad in any given moment. But Hayley’s just fine, thank you, and she doesn’t need teachers, guidance counselors, friends, or cute boys to help her deal. And yet, they keep trying anyway, much to Hayley’s exasperation.

Told mostly from Hayley’s point of view, but interwoven with haunting images from Andy’s trauma, Anderson has given us a well-crafted portrait of what happens when coping mechanisms no longer work, and things fall apart. The story’s greatest strength, however, is in showing how wounded people can become strong again without losing their dignity or compromising their essential selves, a long, slow process that Anderson skillfully spins out over a series of short, intense chapters. As a result, Hayley and Andy are initially hard to like, but worth getting to know, not only for themselves, but for the untold stories they represent.

“Problem novels” aren’t exactly fun to read, but they are important. They shine light on aspects of the human condition some people would rather keep in the dark. Considering the sacrifices so many men and women have made for their country, I’m grateful to Anderson for making this issue the latest focus of her clear-eyed literary spotlight.

–Leigh Anne

with gratitude to all who have served




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In Advance of Veteran’s Day

“In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen.” – Tim O’Brien

I’ve never served in the military. I have no interest in ever doing so (I’m a big ol’ wimp. I give all the props in the world to those who choose this route). However, one of my go-to genres is a good war memoir. This is probably because of the whole “this is the most realistic thing I’ll never experience for myself” thing.

In college, I took a cluster course called “America at War in the Age of Rock and Roll” – a value-meal sized class that married War Literature and Film with Politics of Rock and Roll (Yay, liberal arts!). I think this played a large part in sparking my interest, thanks to two engaging professors, but especially in reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. While fiction, this reads like any personal account of war that you’ll find.

Despite starting off with the Vietnam War, my interests have been split evenly between World War II and the current war, as they bear the more personal connections (also, HBO’s penchant for producing a really good mini-series). My grandfather served as a Naval radio man in the Pacific theater of WWII; my brother-in-law spent a year at Camp Bucca as an MP.

I absorbed  The Pacific when it aired on TV a few years ago and then promptly read Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed and Helmet for My Pillow, by Robert Leckie. Did the same thing after finally watching Band of Brothers – Stephen Ambrose’s book is a fine piece of source material.

As for more contemporary tales, my go-to recommdations stem from Generation Kill. Evan Wright, a reporter from Rolling Stone, was embedded with the First Recon Marines in the spring of 2003 as they acted as “the tip of the spear” during the early days of our presense in Iraq. Wright’s outsider-looking-in account is balanced by One Bullet Away, written by Nathaniel Fick, then a lieutenant in that same company. Fick was close to graduating from Dartmoth when he decided to follow his college education with Marine Corps Officer Candidates School. His is one of the smartest memoirs I’ve read.

I only wish there were more from a woman’s perspective, although the Library of Congress has a neat aural history collection from women in their Veteran’s History Project.

Here’s a few more to check out:



– Jess


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