I read a lot of stories about soldiers.
Not just stories, because poems factor in a huge amount to that too, and I watch a lot of war movies and TV shows (“Band of Brothers” is probably my favorite). These are stories that I have a lot of interest in.
Luke Mogelson does not disappoint in the majority of the stories presented in “These Heroic, Happy Dead” (and can I just say, if you’re quoting cummings for your title, I’m probably going to be biased in your favor, since I’ve liked the guy since I started seriously reading poetry in the first place?). Similar in many ways to “The Things They Carried,” there are some consistent narrative threads throughout the stories despite the fact that they’re being told from different perspectives and different narrators. There is no Luke Mogelson, the Narrator, though according to his biography, there very well could have been one.
Instead, it’s a lot of different people. Some of the stories, such as “A Beautiful Country” and “Visitors” (though admittedly, the first didn’t catch my attention quite as well) are told through the third-person. Mogelson’s writing is stronger when it’s in first-person, though, so I suppose if that perspective bothers you in writing, you might decide not to pick up this book and instead should probably look at “The Naked and the Dead.”
Frequently, the experiences of those peripheral to the actual event of going to war are explored: a son, whose parents are divorced and whose father re-enlists after 9/11; a mother, whose son comes back and two months later is sent to jail after a barroom brawl becomes manslaughter; a journalist who ends up in the middle of a war zone. The people who go to fight are not always the only ones affected by it. Those who do go are not saints, nor are they incapable of doing no wrong: just like the men and women who do actually enlist, they’re human, and they’re capable of fault.
When we read stories about soldiers, whether it’s about their service or what happens when they come home, there is always the risk that the material we read is going to become propaganda. It would be too broad of a statement to say that all media is propaganda, but the military treads some sticky territory where things are frequently seen in black and white. That isn’t the case, and it is never actually the case. That said, it can be very difficult for a writer to paint soldiers as being the people they are. Some are good. Some are bad. Most are just human and capable of being either. Most are capable of mistakes. Mogelson’s characters fit that role in a carefully constructed way. They also show the consequences of what military action can do to a person, whether they’re good or bad.
“These Heroic, Happy Dead” is a fairly quick read, and you can go through the stories as individual pieces (most were initially seen in separate publications) or as a collective whole (not dissimilar to Bradbury’s short stories, which are in almost every other way entirely not like these). I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Tim O’Brien or wants to add another book to their summer reading list.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.