Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: "I'd Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them" by Jesse Goolsby

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

Sadly, war has nearly always been a part of our collective understanding, no matter what generation you are from. So much has been written about the cost of war, and the impact it has on those on the front lines. Jesse Goolsby's powerful, brutal new book, I'd Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them, takes this one step further, looking at war's impact not only on those who serve, but on those they leave behind, and those they interact with after their service has ended.

Wintric Ellis is a young man from a small town in California who decides to join the army directly after his high school graduation, if for no other reason than to provide him direction and give him an opportunity to see life beyond his small town. He leaves behind his girlfriend, Kristen, and winds up in Afghanistan. While he considers himself fortunate not to be in the middle of the deadly fighting in Iraq, the placidity of Afghanistan does little to quell his fears that the enemy is just around the corner, that every step or every encounter could mean peril. But he gets taken under the wing of two more experienced soldiers, Torres and Dax, and their friendship helps make the fearful days less so.

One day, the soldiers are forced to act in a split second, essentially making the choice between life and death. And that decision, made in the heat of the moment, is one that will affect each of their post-war lives and impact their relationships with others, and set each of them on a tremendously challenging path. And after his friends are decommissioned, Wintric faces a shocking incident of violence that further affects him.

I'd Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them is essentially told in snapshots, looking at the early lives of Wintric, Dax, and Torres, and how they wound up in Afghanistan, and how their lives unfolded after they left the military. The book looked at their relationships with family, loved ones, friends, children, and the demons that haunted each of them, many of which formed in that one moment in Afghanistan. The struggles are moving, at times brutal, and tremendously poignant, when you realize that many who have served our country deal with similar issues.

Goolsby is an absolutely talented writer, and his use of language and imagery is tremendously poetic. The characters are tremendously complex (although not always likeable) and you can feel for them and their struggles. My challenge with the book, however, is that in his vignette-like approach, Goolsby often doesn't paint the full picture of what happens to the characters, leaving you with more questions than answers. This was the case with several key incidents in the book—he is oblique rather than direct, and I had to re-read parts of the book a few times, and still didn't always come away with the answers I was seeking.

There have been many fine books written about the scars of war, both physical and emotional, and I'd Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them deserves to stand alongside them. I look forward to seeing what's next in Goolsby's career, because his talent is tremendous.

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