Here we go again

Earlier in the week, two distinguished-looking individuals smiling determinedly, perfectly tailored, and sporting patriotic ties strode onto the debate platform.  Witnessing this, my daughter and I echoed one another’s’ thoughts:  There go two very brave men. 

Imagine millions of people scrutinizing–and potentially misinterpreting–every nuance of body language and parsing every syllable you utter.  No amount of coaching can guarantee that you won’t slip up and offer your opponent the perfect opening for a memorable comeback or future one-liner.

The first outing afforded us no “There you go again“s or silver feet.   But missteps are inevitable, as one candidate had been reminded when he failed to mention military personnel at a crucial juncture during his party’s convention.

Though merely a voter, I, too, had reason to recall (twice) this week how prominently the experiences of servicepersons and veterans figure in our culture.  Two novels I selected randomly from my “read ‘em while they’re still new” pile both examined the plight of war veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Rebecca Coleman‘s new Heaven Should Fall imagines the case of a veteran of the war in Afghanistan contending with PTSD and his extended family’s increasingly skewed worldview.  The veteran’s new sister-in-law Jill perceives what no one else in the Olmstead clan is willing to admit, that Elias requires not only assistance but also an advocate dedicated to his welfare and to demanding the resources due him. 

The Olmsteads’ assessment of the role of government is a story in itself, one that Coleman integrates skillfully.  When are regulations inconvenient and when are they unjust?    How do you balance family loyalty and concern for the welfare of others?  How do you detect suspect agendas labeled as patriotism?  These questions are implicit within the exciting story line–also quite familiar to our two debaters.

 In Selden EdwardsThe Lost Prince (which I highly recommend, though you should read The Little Book first), a sensitive intellectual is consigned to a remote European hospital outpost, destined for an asylum; the horrors of battle have rendered him unable to communicate and to reclaim his identity.  In this story, the war in question is World War I.  Then, his condition would have been labeled “shell shock”.

Edwards’ latest also prominently features historical luminaries–J.P. Morgan, William James, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, to name a few–as characters, vivid descriptions of the landscape in immediate postwar Europe, and insights into corporate empire-building in early  20th-century America.

Read Lost Prince yourself to discover whether the stricken soldier is found and recovered, but it won’t spoil the conclusion to predict that you, too, will be delighted by the strategy adopted by a friend bound to locate the missing soldier at all costs:  venturing into immediate postwar Austria and Italy armed with the one property most apt to ease travel and communication obstacles: a suitcase filled with American currency.

I’ll never think of “emotional baggage” in quite the same way again.

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