Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Farther Shore, by Matthew Eck

The Farther Shore, by Matthew Eck, is a novel about a small group of US soldiers trying to escape an Iraqi city during the war.  This was an interesting book but not a great one.  Its descriptions of the Iraqi war reminded me of Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War.  The plot is not extraordinary:  an idealistic and sensitive young soldier experiences the horrors of war, kills some people, tries to escape the pursuing enemy, friends are wounded and die, he accidentally kills a fellow soldier, is rescued, talks to dad and mom over the phone.  Then it’s over.  At the beginning the main character and fellow soldiers are watching out for enemy movements from the top of a tall building in a war-torn Iraqi city.  They hear movement in the stairs coming up towards their location and engage in gunfire.  The noises, it turns out, were made by young boys coming up to the roof.  The soldiers know the dead boys will be missed and leave the building, headed towards a rendezvous location where helicopters will pick them up.  But the helicopters are chased off by enemy fire, one of the soldiers is fatally wounded, and the group has to leave the town on foot.  They make their way through the city to the beach and walk north along the shore for days until they reach a deserted building where they stay during the rainy season.  When the rain stops they travel further, are separated, and then more events occur.  Eck’s descriptions of Iraq and the experiences of the soldiers are vivid.  His descriptions of the struggles of the soldiers through the Iraqi countryside reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  An emotional numbness penetrates this novel.  Eck refrains from commentary or soul-searching, apparently believing that the horror of the events speak for themselves, but they don’t, and the book seems not fully formed as a result.

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