Falcons on the Floor by the kind folks at Publishing Genius Press.
Sirois pulls no punches, sending us straight into Fallujah on the eve of the siege that marked one of the bloodiest chapters of the Iraq War.
This was not a place I wanted to go. I never served; I opposed that war even as my friends and family members found themselves in places I followed on the nightly news. Sirois dragged me there with a compellingly simple story: two friends walk out of Fallujah the night the fighting begins to try to find someplace safer. What Sirois did masterfully was create two friends with many personal, political, and moral differences. The tension that filled their walk across the desert kept the book marching forward.
Sirois' willingness to change forms was a key to winning me over. After a prolog set in America, the first section of the novel hovers in a limited omniscience following Salim and Khalil. The second section is where the novel takes off, when we move from the more traditional narration to an epistolary style seen through the computer diary entries written by Salim during the journey.
The reasons this novel really brings the war to life in the second part are two-fold. First, Sirois' greatest strength is his attention to dialogue, specifically to the simmering tensions left unspoken by the two feuding friends. His description of the setting is minimalist; the nuts and bolts of the landscape (the kind of street we're walking down, what sort of window we look out of) are not as vivid as his dialogue. So writing a diary from the point of view of one of the characters- specifically of one who has never really been out of his home city before- allows Sirois to skip that aspect in favor of the character interactions.
Second, it should come as no surprise that when two characters take off to escape the Iraq War, the war is going to find them. This novel is Chekov's gun on steroids. What Sirois pulls off in Falcons on the Floor's third act is an ending unlike any war novel I've read since The Things They Carried. I don't offer that praise lightly.
No spoilers here, except to say that once the bullets start flying the ending is not what you expect. I wrote the other day about character death, and how it often robs a novel of the vitality of our investment. This book, this climax is every inch worthy of the build-up, encapsulating the madness of war, the lives of our main characters, and the madness of this moment in American history.
Read this book.
Book 26 of my book a week challenge.