I finally finished Dexter Filkins's The Forever War, having read it in a kind of steady drip over the the course of many weeks. Extremely well written, it gave me a set of images and a context to complement the film The Hurt Locker (about an American bomb defusal squad in the present Iraq conflict). A friend and colleague with whom I saw The Hurt Locker feels that the film withholds a true point of view; that is, it fails to make clear its moral position in relation to the Iraq conflict. I don't agree, and believe that the film's position—that its main character defines himself in terms of danger and conflict, though he does not know why—provides a lens for judging the war itself. Whatever its initial or subsequent causes, it exists in all its horror in a kind of amoral place, operating with an awful momentum that does not allow for moral reasoning. (This, in itself, is a moral condemnation, I'd argue.) In any case, while discussing the film in light of Filkins's book, I said that the film's tone is a kind of reportage rather than narrative storytelling, which my friend says is exactly his point. The Forever War does not say "this war is wrong" or "these causes are just" or any such thing. It faces, instead, the situation of soldiers, insurgents, government workers and ordinary citizens caught in the conflict. Filkins says, "This is how life becomes when we enter war." He saves, I think, his most cutting outrage for the Taliban in Afghanistan, but perhaps that's because, by the time Iraq has descended into a succession of suicide bombings and all-out internal Islamic conflict, his outrage has become too stunned to fully function. What he finds, I think, is the nihilism at the heart of the conflict—and he names it as such at one point. As in Graham Greene's "The Destructors," people seem intent on acting merely for the purpose of pulling the world down upon everyone's head. Filkins's sympathies are with all those simply trying to do the right thing, even if "the right thing" remains morally problematic.
I've been reading other things: some of Bruno Schulz's strangely haunting and narratively truncated short stories; an outstanding, beautifully rendered story by Melanie Rae Thon, "Survivors," in issue 69 of AGNI; Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," with its sense—so close to any writer's thinking—that death's victory is in taking away what we meant to say; and Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," which wisely follows "Kilimanjaro," again taking us to metaphors expressing the meagerness of light and the kind of blank dread that's possible outside that light.
I mailed a group of eight short stories, jointly titled The Last Revelation, I Swear, to the Iowa Press for its annual short fiction competition. My collection contains four published (or soon-to-be-published) stories and four unpublished stories.