I’ll admit at the top that I’ve never been a huge fan of the short story as an instrument of fiction, so I generally avoid short story collections; I vastly prefer novels. But in the fall and winter of 2014, Phil Klay’s Redeployment was making a lot of waves. There were articles all over the place, and the book was prominently positioned in the window displays of every bookstore I strolled by, especially after it was announced as a shortlisted finalist for the National Book Award, even more so after it won the Award.
So I relented and purchased a copy. But I didn’t read it right away. Every time I finished a book, I kept finding reason to put off Redeployment and read something else in its stead. But one evening, I read a New York Times review of Dave Eggers’ Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, which I’d seen on the shelves of bookstores. I’m a fan of Eggers, but this slim volume and its jacket description kind of turned me off. The review I read that evening just ripped it apart, and in a very smart way. When I reached the end of the review, I discovered that it was written by none other than Phil Klay.
So I finally picked up Redeployment and gave it a read and…to be honest, I was nonplussed. I just didn’t like it very much. Putting aside that short stories aren’t my thing, and that the Iraq war is a topic I’ve grown a little tired of, still I didn’t like it very much. There were a few pieces that I enjoyed and found to be enlightening, among them “In Vietnam They Had Whores,” “Money as a Weapons System,” “Prayer in the Furnace,” and the title track, “Redeployment.” But I honestly didn’t enjoy them enough or find them enlightening enough to warrant me saying that the book opened my mind in any new, major way, or that it was anywhere close to the best American book of fiction published in 2014 that I’ve read.
Now, I’ll say this, and it may be unpopular or appear to be in poor taste. I think it’s possible that the deluge of hype that Redeployment garnered may have something to do, in part, with the fact that not hyping it may have been perceived as unpatriotic, or un-American, or some such thing. To be clear, I’m not saying that Klay’s book wasn’t good. I’m saying that, to my mind, it wasn’t the end-all-be-all in fiction in 2014, something that many others, and in particular the judges of the National Book Award for that year, seemed to believe.
I think that the stories Klay presents here are good, eye-opening, important stories. But I already knew the war was fucked up, and that our soldiers there both did and went through fucked up things, and that many of their lives, upon returning home, are fucked up. The book was, to be sure, sharp, educational, and even unique. But it wasn’t phenomenal, and I won’t blindly sing its praises.