International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Trauma and World Literature

Posted 29 July 2013 in StressPoints by ISTSS

In March of 2013, the Bob Edwards public radio show broadcast an interview with the editors of the short story collection Fire and Forget, written by American veterans (and the wife of a veteran) of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In addition to the editor and contributors, one of the authors, Phil Klay, also was interviewed. His comment on the relationship between fiction and non-fiction meaningfully restates the philosophy of Traumatic StressPoint’sTrauma and World Literature feature. After describing his combat duties, Klay goes on to say, “…when I really try to get to the heart of what that experience was, I can write memoir, I can write non-fiction that can help, but for myself I really start to get at it when I write a story.”

Many great works of literature imparting wisdom regarding trauma and the human condition have been presented in this feature. Among them, Pat Barker’s work Regeneration is one I particularly recommend to students to help with their psychotherapeutic work with veterans. Fire and Forget can be considered in that same category. Its particular strength is that so many types of experience are so masterfully presented. Any of the stories could have yielded one or more passages to highlight. The quote below comes from the story by Sioban Fallon, the wife of a combat veteran. Her piece, entitled Tips for a Smooth Transition, describes the return home of Colin to his wife Evie. The work is structured around a series of recommendations to families of returning vets. The recommendations are not taken from an actual guide, but represent well the standard advice that is typically given.

In the story, Colin and Evie take a vacation to Hawaii a week after he returns from his most recent deployment.

First, the tip:

“Some things may have changed… Discuss topics such as social activities and household routines. Go slowly-- don’t try to make up for lost time, be flexible.”

Then Fallon describes Evie’s internal monologue as the couple prepares to leave for their trip:

“There is nothing called ‘shark encounters’ in Evie’s guidebook.  She looks out the window at the runway as her husband talks. He thinks he will convince her to do a shark encounter? She hates sharks. Evie hates everything on Colin’s list. She does not kayak, or rock climb, or scuba. She knows her husband is a man full of energy, his body an animal that must be tended, fed, groomed and put out to run. And yet she assumed this trip, like other vacations they’ve taken, would be a compromise between her love of museums and good food and his love of sweat and activity. But, all of Colin’s options seem like adventures he ought to do alone or with a soldier buddy...” (p. 24)

As tempting as it is to describe the other stories in the book, further exploration of this work is best left to the reader. However, another story, Brian Van Reet’s, Big Two Hearted Hunting Creek, is an interesting companion piece to Hemingway’s story Big Two Hearted River. Both are compelling stories about combat veterans on fishing trips. With that teaser, our advice of leaving the rest to the reader will now be followed.

References

Fallon, Sioban (2013) Tips for a Smooth Transition. In R. Scranton, & M. Gallagher, Fire and Forget (pp. 21 – 38). Boston: Da Capo.

Hemingway, Ernest (1953) Big Two Hearted River, Pt. 1 & 2. In The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribners (pp. 207 – 232)

Scranton, Roy & Gallagher, Matt (2013) Fire and Forget. Boston: Da Capo.

Van Reet, Brian (2013) Big Two Hearted Hunting Creek. In Scranton, Roy & Gallagher, Matt, Fire and Forget. (pp. 173 – 191) Boston: Da Capo.