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Redeployment by Phil Klay review – ‘Incendiary stories of war’

For the Guardian:

Ex-marine Phil Klay inhabits more than a dozen different voices in these compelling short stories of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan

One of the many things I learned in reading this book was that during the Iraq war the mines were often laid in “daisy chains”. Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) would roll out on patrol into, say, Fallujah and when they hit a bomb – “32,000lb of steel lifting and buckling into the air” – the immediate fear of the survivors was that this would be followed by a series of explosions from mines laid to have maximum impact on anyone approaching or escaping the initial carnage. The image stuck in my mind because that’s what this collection of short stories is: a daisy chain of incendiary fictional accounts of frontline military experience in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, carefully deployed to detonate in the reader’s mind one after another.

Phil Klay is an ex-marine who served in Iraq. But, in the present context, this is not what distinguishes him: what matters is that he is also a scrupulous and skilful writer. And Redeployment is the real thing – a vivid and vital battery of war stories that does not rely solely on its subject matter for impact (although, make no mistake, the subject certainly has impact).

I must admit, though, I struggled with the first few pages. I can’t stand the clear-as-a-mountain-creek regular‑guy style so beloved of the faux-masculine tough-but-vulnerable narrative. And for a page or two, Redeployment read to me as if it was written by a rogue Jack Daniels copywriter: “It was good. We got back on the plane and passed the fuck out. Woke up in America.” Lots of “roger” this and “roger” that, and sentences like, “Sweat a little of the alcohol out, too.” Here we go, I thought, 300 pages from some poor, screwed-up acronym‑spewing marine who finds himself intellectually embarrassed to discover that human beings have rich, deep and dark inner lives. Read War and Peace, soldier.

I was wrong. This was but a single voice.

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