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The Human Toll

Waiting For The Enemy, by Brandon Davis Jennings

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I recently received a short story chapbook, published by Iron Horse Literary Review, a publication put out once a year by this journal, each by a contest winner.

The collection of short stories is a thin one, only 37 pages, but together the stories constitute an evolving theme: the plight of combatants in the overlong wars fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Jennings’ prose is taut, pithy, his imagery something only a combatant in one of these wars could write (Jennings is an Iraq War veteran), and he treats, as the collection title implies, not the smoke, noise, and fog of war, but the emotional toll exacted on these combatants.

In the title story, my favorite, we read of a group of soldiers dumped from an airplane, onto a desert and inside razor wire to wait for enemy attacks. These never come, but a camel roams too close and tangles itself in the razor wire. The manner in which the soldiers react to this is the most stark portrayal I can imagine of the moral degradation that accompanies war. Metaphorically, I think that the enemy Jennings writes of here is the one in these combatants’ hearts and souls after so many months and years of such experience.

Kudos to Iron Horse for having the nerve to publish this, and I can only hope that Jennings can continue to grow beyond these stark experiences as a writer.

My rating: 17 of 20 stars

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