Military Book Reviews

Our Best War Stories

Our Best War Stories, edited by Christopher Lyke (Middle West Press. 2020, 219p)

Packed with 36 PRIZE-WINNING WORKS of WAR POETRY, SHORT FICTION, and NON-FICTION from TODAY’S WARS!

A patrol races to make peace with Afghan village leaders, battling time to save a snake-bitten Marine! An Army veteran whose touch can hold off death attempts to find his grip. On the streets of Washington, D.C. a former sailor is haunted by the ghost of a stalker who once threatened her career! A proud Air Force brat faces racism on an overseas playground! The crew of an Army cargo plane delivers a brand new Jeep to special forces—in the middle of a jungle firefight!

Since 2016, administered by the Chicago-based literary journal Line of Advance, the Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Awards have served not only to highlight some of the best contemporary voices writing about modern wars—from Vietnam, to Iraq and Afghanistan—but to also creatively commemorate the life of a U.S. Army leader and writer, beloved by his family and troops.

Contributors to this volume include: Brian L. Braden: U.S. Air Force veteran, former military intelligence officer, and author of the historical fantasy series Black Sea Gods: Chronicles of Fu Xi. Eric Chandler: U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, former F-16 fighter pilot over Iraq and Afghanistan, outdoor sports writer, and author of the poetry collection Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War. Desiree Cooper: U.S. Air Force family member, journalist, and author of the award-winning flash-fiction collection Know the Mother. Jillian Danback-McGhan: U.S. Naval Academy graduate, management coach, and emerging author of literary short stories. David R. Dixon: U.S. Army veteran, and author of the military science-fiction swashbuckler The Damsel.


Our Best War Stories edited by Christopher Lyke is a collection of thirty-six prize-winning short stories and poems, authored by military veterans and their families. They draw from the 2016-2020 Colonel Darron L. Wright Memorial Award writing contest series, administered by the Chicago-based literary journal Line of Advance.

Overview

We’ve all heard it: the blustering War Story that starts with “So there I was…” and invokes a mental eye-roll, an internal response that is partly “Here we go again” and mostly “I really wish I had topped off my beer.” The anthology Our Best War Stories is the opposite of that. It is a riveting collection of short stories and poetry written by brave people who have clearly grappled with the highs and lows of the human condition. 

The combat veterans and military family members who wrote these stories are the ones courageous enough to share their darkest pains and their brightest joys- through the lens of fictional characters and narratives that resonate with all of us- because we all have a story to tell. Editor Lyke notes, “War stories are about people, after all; about the small moments when we realize that we are alive, and part of something beautiful, and terrible, and painfully human.”

Takeaways

Dave Grossman put it best in his classic work, On Combat. “Pain shared is pain divided, and joy shared is joy multiplied; that is the essence of the human condition.” The key takeaway from this book is not in the details of the prize-winning stories, or the themes of death, love, hope, and loss. The main idea of Our Best War Stories is stories are simply being shared with us, the readers. 

One question people may ask is how does writing fiction or poetry help a person heal or reintegrate into society? The answer is, fiction allows us to connect small to big and connect our personal combat experiences to the historical landscape of warfare. Adding a layer of fictional abstraction brings some order to confusing and scary encounters that change lives and seem hand-tailored to produce a personalized version of hell. Writing fiction takes the author up a level, from the memory of watching his buddy die in agony after stepping on an Improvised Explosive Device tripwire, up to the conceptual level of the Grim Reaper as the well-known archetype of Death. Adding a layer of abstraction through fiction gives the writer access to the psychological tools human culture has developed over thousands of years to deal with complex emotions; tools many of us desperately need.

This book offers access to two distinctly different feelings- pleasure and honor. The reader certainly finds pleasure in reading this collection of stories and poems. Part of the pleasure comes from recognizing aspects of our own stories written into the fiction… vividly recalling the satisfaction of burning a cigarette after a mentally exhausting nighttime combat mission or reliving the bittersweetness of making love on the last night before a deployment. But a grander feeling than pleasure is honor. And this book gives the reader the honor of walking alongside the authors and helping to carry the weight of their war stories. Pain shared is pain divided, indeed. 

In Karl Marlantes’ bestseller What it is Like to Go to War, he describes the importance of veterans sharing their stories as a critical step on the path toward healing and reintegration with society. We would do well to heed his wisdom – “When the child asks, ‘What is it like to go to war?’ to remain silent keeps you from coming home.”


For more background information on Our Best War Stories check out our riveting Author Interview with Christopher Lyke here: Our Best War Stories – DODReads


Jesse “Axle” Breau is an active-duty US Air Force officer and fighter pilot. You can contact him via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/jesse-breau.

Leave a Reply....