Saturday, December 27, 2014

David Finkel: Thank You For Your Service

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After finishing an almost unreadable book, I picked up one of the most unputdownable books I've read in a long time. It was also possibly the saddest book I've ever read, and at times I almost had to put it down, because this is a really bad time for that. "Thank You For Your Service" is so good that I couldn't put it down, even when it was crushing me. David Finkel is a master story teller, telling a horrible story.

The conceit here is that he's embedded with soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who have now come home. In his previous book, he embedded in Iraq- I haven't read that one. The soldiers, some of them now former soldiers, are in various states of disrepair. None of them can be said to be thriving. Adam Schumann, the anti-hero of the book, can most definitely be said to be fighting for air and/or his life. PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) and anxiety and depression and other forms of mental illness are plaguing all of them, somewhere in the middle of Kansas. They're fighting the stigma of mental illness that they've internalized- the healthiest one of them seems to be one of Schumann's fellow soldiers (one whose life he saves and who figures prominently in his PTSD), who has all kinds of physical problems. The broken men wish for physical injuries and are sure, probably not incorrectly, that they're being judged unkindly by their peers. One of the most painful moments in the book comes when one of the men sees a piece mocking soldiers getting help for their problems in his superior's cubicle- at the mental health treatment center.

The book also deals with the others affected by the war- the widow of one of Adam's battalion members (I probably have the level wrong), Adam's wife, a four star general who actually gives a damn about mental health- particularly suicides- of his troops, the girlfriends, etc. It's a bitter, ugly story. Thank You for Your Service is journalism and doesn't pretend to offer solutions or resolution or a Hollywood ending, but readers might end wishing for one. No one comes out looking good, but if you don't read this book and end up angry at the men in charge and feeling tragically sorry for the men and women at the short end of the stick, I'm not sure what book you read. This is a must read, if you can stomach it.